A short story inspired by my visit to Tarbert and the Tarbert Book Festival

Happy Tuesday all! This week I thought I’d share a short story for a change. The below story was inspired by my visit to Tarbert and also came out of a writing workshop I attended as part of the book festival. The writing workshop was run by the ever-inspiring and helpful Anne Hamilton. She wanted us to write a story inspired by the setting of Tarbert, particularly Tarbert Harbour, as it would be seen from a specific character’s perspective. The character choices were: a 6-year-old boy, a 70-year-old woman, a teenager or a tourist visiting for the weekend. While I enjoyed experimenting with the different characters and their voices, I ultimately chose to write from the point of view of the tourist as it felt the most authentic.

I hope you enjoy my story! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, if you felt like commenting. 🙂

b-edit-sails

The Last Night

By Kendra Olson

Gillian sat at the wooden table, watching the harbour lights come on as she finished her fish and chips. Lifting a piece of fish to her mouth, she crunched into it, careful not to drip oil. A small boat was slowly drifting towards her. Blue with white trim, its sail extended to catch the evening breeze.

She snuggled deeper inside her new, grey-green tartan shawl. Tomorrow she would be going home. Home. The word stuck in her throat. She’d only been in Tarbert four days.

The man on the sailing dinghy suddenly waved at her. It was a clumsy gesture. Gillian waved back. Did she know him?

As the boat came closer, she realised it was Chris, from the pub. Gillian rose, threw her cardboard box into the nearby bin and started towards the boat.

Each night since Gillian had arrived she’d been going for a drink at The Corner House—it was right below her room at The Starfish. Chris was a regular there and they’d talked about everything from London, where Gillian lived, to birdwatching—Chris was a birdwatcher—to the Scottish Referendum. They’d taken turns buying each other drinks and he’d introduced her to a few of the locals.

‘Did you have a nice day today?’ Chris asked.

‘Yes, it was lovely, thanks.’

‘And what did you do?’ Chris began putting the sails away.  Gillian wondered if he’d had a change of heart. Perhaps he felt obliged to talk to her, to be nice to the tourists who’d made it this far. The thought made her sad.

‘I took the ferry to Arran. It was beautiful.’ Gillian smiled, remembering the journey. A pod of porpoises had swum beside the boat and a woman seated next to her had pointed out a seal, bobbing about in the distance.

‘Aye, it’s very nice out that way.’ Chris looked serious. He pulled on the rope, twisting it up into an impossibly complex sailor’s knot.

Gillian pretended to be enjoying the view and, in truth, she was.

‘Do you have any plans for the night?’ he asked, looking a bit sheepish.

She studied him, wanting to make sure his request was genuine before answering. The fresh sea air acted almost as an aphrodisiac and she noticed the burnt gold of his skin and the sea spray clinging to his hair. The blue of his eyes was almost blinding.

‘No.’ The wind had picked up and Gillian felt the salt lifting up off the water and hitting her exposed skin.

‘I’ve a bottle of Longrow on the boat, if you’d like to join me?’ Chris looked away from her as he fidgeted with the cap in his hands.

‘Okay,’ but she knew she shouldn’t. Tomorrow she’d have to leave, to go back to her real life, whatever that meant.

Chris reached out for Gillian. His grip on her was firm and reassuring. She quickly flew over the brief expanse of ocean below as he pulled her aboard.

She’d not think of tomorrow just yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Carol Lovekin, author of Ghostbird

Today I’m welcoming the delightful Carol Lovekin to my blog. Carol is the author of the magical and poignant novel Ghostbird which is published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, an independent co-operative press run by women and this year celebrating 30 years of publishing books exclusively by women.

In case you missed my review of Ghostbird, you can read it here: https://kendraolson.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/my-review-of-ghostbird-by-carol-lovekin/),

ghostbird-cover-final-front-only
Welcome, Carol! Thanks for coming by to talk with us today about your novel.

It’s my genuine pleasure, Kendra. Thank you for inviting me.

carol-favourite-shot-smallformat

Credit: Janey Stevens

Firstly, could you please describe the story for readers?

My central protagonist is Cadi Hopkins, fourteen years old, lonely and surrounded by ambiguity. She lives with her emotionally distant mother, Violet, in a remote Welsh village where each year it rains every day throughout the month of August. Next door lives Cadi’s witchy aunt Lili, guarding a secret she knows she should never have agreed to keep. It’s a frustrating existence for Cadi – all she knows is her father and little sister died not long before she was born. When the ghost of her sister attaches itself to her, Cadi begins a search for the truth. The rainmaker and an ancient myth cast spells and the secrets wake up. In the process, each of the three Hopkins women comes of age, proving you are never too young or too old. The myth of Blodeuwedd – from the Mabinogion – is a thread running through the story and one of its meanings is the origin of the book’s title. In Welsh folklore the barn owl – the bird Blodeuwedd is changed into – is known as the ghostbird.

What is it that makes this story unique?

I’m not sure any story is unique. What sets Ghostbird apart is, perhaps, my ghost. She’s little more than a baby and although at first she scares Cadi it’s less from evil intent than frustrated confusion. And I’ve written a consciously female-centric narrative; reimagined Blodeuwedd’s story from her perspective. I used my vision of her change, together with my imagined metamorphosis of the ghost, as a device to illustrate the transformations of Cadi, Lili and Violet. (My male characters are, I trust, as sympathetic as they deserve to be!) My aim when writing the magic was to make it unobtrusive; incidental almost because it’s part of the Welsh landscape. It’s as authentic as my reader decides it is.

When did this story begin, for you as the writer?

What a great question! Nothing comes from nowhere; all stories begin somewhere and many years ago when I first moved to Wales and read the Mabinogion, I found myself particularly fascinated by the story of Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers, by men, for their political ends. How, as a punishment for her perceived betrayal, she was cursed by being turned into an owl. To my mind, being turned into a bird meant Blodeuwedd would gain her freedom. Wouldn’t she? This seed lay dormant until I was ready to make it germinate.

Ghostbird
revolves around the lives of three women – Lilwen, Violet and Cadi Hopkins. Why did you choose to put women and their stories at the centre of the novel?

I’ve always considered fiction an excellent vehicle for telling women’s stories. Dramatizing real narratives gives them an added dimension. Writer and reader can delve deep; explore their own lives and experiences beyond received wisdom. I am a great delver! I’m also a feminist and women’s stories matter to me. From the moment I read Blodeuwedd’s I wanted to reclaim it – give her a voice and tell her story from her viewpoint. (Cadi came to me out of another blue somewhere on the wings of a bird, fully formed and in agreement. She became my ally.)

Traditional Welsh village life features in the book, yet in many ways the themes are quite modern. Was this conscious on your part and, if so, how did you navigate the literary terrain between the modern and the traditional?

In many Welsh communities, traditional life remains a reality. The old ways still exist, even if they are largely disguised. I’m not a historical novelist in any sense of the word, preferring modern settings, and the myth is a trace – a hook to hang the ghost’s story on. Initially, her voice had far less prominence, hardly more than a whispered soundtrack. Once my editor, the astute and talented Janet Thomas, pointed out the ghost needed more of a voice, I wrote her story in isolation, slotted it into the main narrative and to my surprise discovered I was writing a proper ghost story!

One aspect of the novel that I appreciated was that you feature lesbian characters but did not highlight their sexuality to readers – in other words, their sexuality isn’t of particular importance to their character. Why did you choose to write your characters in this way?

The frivolous answer is I’m on a mission to change the world of fiction one lesbian at a time! You have already addressed the more serious one: Lili’s sexuality is of absolutely no importance in reference to her place in the story. She’s a lesbian, dear reader, move on! Lesbians (and gay men) in literature rarely need explaining. It pleases me that so few reviewers have commented on Lili’s and Pomona’s relationship, those who have, wisely noting how it doesn’t need to be an issue.

Dreams, apparitions, imagination and the subconscious all feature in the story. Some have referred to the novel as ‘magical realist’, myself included. Would you agree or disagree with this statement and why or why not?

In a way, this question feeds into the one you asked about the notion of a story’s uniqueness. If my reader interprets what I write as ‘magical realism’ I’m honoured – it’s a noble tradition. (Frustratingly it’s become confused with fantasy and is too often horribly misappropriated.) I write from a place I have been deeply familiar with for decades. If my reader can suspend disbelief and accept that a woman can have fingers so green her garden never needs weeding, I’m content. If she can accept the possibility of a rain spell, or a ghost in the shape of a child reincarnated as a bird, my work, so to speak, is done. Magical realism is in the eye of the beholder.

Did you encounter any challenges when writing the novel and, if so, how did you get around these?

Writing is a challenge, from first word to last and I enjoy it more than I can describe. As a latecomer, I’m writing to catch up. That’s the real challenge: getting all the stories in my head down on paper while I still have my marbles!

I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Are you able/willing to tell us anything about the story?

I’ve recently completed another ghost story. It’s also set in Wales, is darker than Ghostbird, and the ghost is Victorian. It’s another sister story (my favourite kind), features far less rain, an abundance of snow and some Cream Legbar chickens. The only other thing I’m able to tell you is it’s with my editor, pending approval.

Thanks so much for coming by to talk with us today! Best of luck with Ghostbird and with all your writing!

Thank you, Kendra! It’s been enormous fun. And may I say, as a writer, you and the other bloggers and reviewers who continue to support us are the bee’s knees deserving of our undying gratitude.

Thank you! 🙂

Readers can obtain Ghostbird from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin/dp/190998339X/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B01AOMVP2U/

Honno the Welsh Women’s Press: http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397

Learn more about Carol and her writing by visiting her website/blog: https://carollovekinauthor.com/

 

 

 

Visiting Tarbert and the Tarbert Book Festival

Readers of this blog will remember an announcement I made back at the beginning of September to say I’d been shortlisted  for the Tarbert Book Festival’s writing competition . At the end of last month I went up to Tarbert with my partner to attend the book festival as well as doing some sightseeing of our own in the area.

While I didn’t win the grand prize (that accolade goes to the very talented Frances Ainslie for her lovely story, Nights with Mary-Anne), I did have a wonderful time getting to meet and chat with many interesting writerly (and not so writerly) folk. I even received a compliment on my story from Janice Galloway (a prize in itself).

fullsizerender

Here I am, reading my shortlisted story.

In addition to the awards reception on the Friday evening at The Loch Fyne Gallery where short-listees read their stories, I also attended the Saturday of the writing festival.

On Saturday morning I participated in Anne Hamilton’s inspiring and fun writing workshop. As well as discussing setting (which was the inspiration for the writing competition), Anne talked about the importance of writing for its own sake. She said that so many people these days talk about writing, but never do it. She then went on to give us some practical hints and tips for both starting writing and for finishing what we begin. The piece of advice which most spoke to me was Anne’s admonition to leave the editing until after the story was written. I have a difficult time with this, always wanting to tweak and polish as I go. But, as Anne said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I will try to keep this in mind the next time I’m tempted to edit before finishing a piece.

The second session I attended was Janice Galloway’s. She was reading from her latest collection of stories, Jellyfish, and discussing the writing of them. She said that how you tell a story is more important than what is actually said. The writer’s voice is incredibly important to the telling of the story because our books are, ultimately, about us as we are their creators. She went on to say that self-consciousness is the enemy of good writing, which must be natural. It’s about interpreting and presenting vulnerability. She then read an extract from one of the stories in her new collection which was captivating. After the session I had to go and purchase my own copy and get it signed, of course. 🙂 What she had to say resonated with me and is something I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

fullsizerender-1

fullsizerender-2

Later that afternoon I attended Shirley McKay’s excellent talk about her historical fiction crime collection, 1588: A Calendar of Crime which takes place in Tudor Scotland. Her talk was fascinating and I was very much drawn to the idea of crime being integrated with historical fiction—it sounds tricky but satisfying, particularly when the crimes take place during such a dramatic period of history. When I was in my late teens I became particularly interested in this period of history (I’ve no idea how this came about as I lived in California) and so it was a lot of fun revisiting that history in Shirley’s talk. I’m looking forward to reading her books at some point too.

That evening at Stonefield Castle we were treated to an excellent whisky tasting by local distillery Springbank, followed by a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable talk by Chris Brookmyre. Of course, besides being funny and giving some colourful anecdotes from his writing life, Chris also dispensed good advice. My favourite of which was his definition of writer’s block as reluctance to make a decision about your story. He said that sometimes you just have to finish the work and make a decision about where you’ll take it, even if it’s not what you thought it would be. He said that sometimes where you think a story will go isn’t where it actually ends up. I thought this was an interesting approach to it and worth sharing. (For another insightful approach to writer’s block, see this post by Colorado-based writer Kele Lampe: https://theshadowsanctuary.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/carving-up-writers-block/ ).

While the following day of the festival held several exciting events which we would have loved to have attended, we chose to do some exploring instead as we only had a couple of days in this beautiful and enchanting area of Scotland. We chose to hike to the White Shore, through the woods along the northern side of Tarbert Harbour. Later we took a ferry to the nearby village of Portavadie where we walked a short stretch of the Cowal Way. Both were beautiful and refreshing to experience. On the Friday, before the reception, we’d visited Tarbert Castle, which we also enjoyed.

TarbertCastleScreen.jpg

Tarbert Castle

hebrideansheepscreen

Hebridean sheep who “occupy” the castle.

And on our absolute final day in Tarbert we took a ferry all the way to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, mostly to experience being on the sea (this was thanks to a local tip as we would never have known about this ferry journey otherwise). Because the ferry only went once a day, we were only able to get off for a few short minutes, but at least we can say we’ve been there 😉 . The journey itself was spectacular. We saw two pods of porpoises swimming alongside the boat as well as a mother porpoise and her baby. We also saw a seal playing in the water. The previous day, on the ferry to Portavadie, we’d also seen seals in the distance. Magical doesn’t even begin to cover it. Seeing the Isle of Arran gently hover into view on a misty day was unforgettable.

It made me sad to leave Tarbert but I’m consoled by the fact that there’s always next year.

Have you attended any writing festivals far from home and, if so, did you try to combine it with a vacation? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please leave a comment below.

Like this post? Consider following me so you never miss a post—your email address will never be sold, rented, shared or spammed. Thank you!

Review of The Changing Room by Jane Turley

Jane and I are both members of the Book Connectors group on Facebook. I’d read, and enjoyed, her short story collection, A Modern Life: Sweet and Salty Short Stories. So when I ran into her at the Triskele Literary Festival in London on the 17th September, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s always fun to meet someone in person who you’ve only chatted to online.

Jane was manning a table of her lovely books at the festival and, as they looked so intriguing, I gave into temptation and purchased one. Of course, Jane was lovely too. 🙂

image1

I chose a limited edition hardcover of Jane’s first novel, The Changing Room (edition at back). As you can see from the above photo, the cover was later changed (front-most edition) and, while I do find the new cover attractive, it also looks similar to another cover I’ve seen somewhere. The cartoon on the hardback version drew my attention right away and made me question what the book was about. I have to admit, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Also, now having read the book, I think this cover suits the story better.

image2-3

The back cover is nicely decorated too.

fullsizerender

What do you think of Jane’s two covers, and which would you have chosen? I’d love to hear so do consider leaving a comment below.

Here’s my review of The Changing Room.

My review:

“Parenthood is one long journey of discovery isn’t it? I’d better go,” I say, snatching a look at Mum. “My mother’s keeping a watchful eye on me.”

As Sandy Lovett’s mother becomes increasingly confused and disoriented due to her Alzheimer’s, Sandy has to step up and take on a caring role for her. When, one night, Sandy enters her mother’s home to find her huddled underneath the table in the dark, fearing the arrival of German forces—her mind is often stuck in World War 2—Sandy realises her mum needs full time care. Not yet ready to put her mum in a home, Sandy decides to quit her job at Hendersons furniture store to look after her full time, in addition to her responsibilities to her three children.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse for husband Dave’s small scale building business. He’s struggling to get by and refuses to lay off any of his workforce in order to increase profits (good on Dave). When Sandy’s friend and fellow PTA-member Deidre offers her a part time sales job at The Herald, Sandy jumps at the chance—she can sell anything and working out of the office will mean she can spend more time with her mum. But, despite Sandy’s excellent sales record, the job still isn’t lucrative enough to support Dave’s ailing business. Luckily, phone sales isn’t the only line of work Deidre has to offer. What she proposes next will heat things up in more ways than one.

With a colourful cast of well drawn characters and a fantastic sense of humour, Turley’s The Changing Room was just the kind of book I’d hoped it would be and more. I admired Sandy’s strength and tenacity in choosing the right battles to fight and, sensibly, letting the others go. Of course, I also appreciated her witty reflections on those around her and, indeed, on herself.

Turley’s writing is hilariously funny in parts as well as poignant. Her empathy for her characters shines through at all points. I found The Changing Room to be both uplifting and refreshing–a story about working families makes for a welcome change. I look forward to reading whatever Jane Turley chooses to write next.

Readers can purchase The Changing Room from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Changing-Room-British-Comedy-Laughter-ebook/dp/B0160Q1YFC/

Amazon U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/Changing-Room-British-Comedy-Laughter-ebook/dp/B0160Q1YFC/

And where all good books are sold.

Visit Jane’s website, The Witty Way’s of a Wayward Wife:  http://www.janeturley.net/

Follow her on Twitter: @turleytalks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JaneTurleywriter/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf#

 

 

 

 

New article published today in Lothian Life

I’m pleased to announce that an article I’ve written on the historic role of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade in making the world a safer place has been published today in Lothian Life. The article was inspired by a recent trip to Edinburgh where I visited the Edinburgh Museum of Fire on my partner’s behalf (he works in the fire service). While there I learned some very surprising facts.

http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2016/10/trail-blazing-edinburgh/

The Story Behind Laying Ghosts

For those of you who read my review of Virginia King’s latest story, Laying Ghosts, yesterday, I thought you might be interested to read more about the inspiration behind the story. Of course, even if you missed my review you might still enjoy hearing the story behind the story. 🙂

book-cover

And for those who missed it, just a quick reminder to let you know that Laying Ghosts is now available to download FREE from Amazon UK, Amazon US and other retailers.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia King:

A Ghost Story Needs … a Ghost

(A version of this post first appeared on ‘Hey Said Renee’  in May 2016.

vasilisa

Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin 1899, public domain image, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful#/media/File:Vasilisa.jpg

My psychological mysteries have a mythical twist so I’m into visionary mirrors and mystical graveyards, suspect stalkers and symbolic objects. I’ve never sidled up to a ghost. But the idea to write a ghost story – as the prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series – crept up on me, especially in the middle of the night – just like a … ghost.

Click here to continue reading: http://www.selkiemoon.com/la-bloguette/a-ghost-story-needs-a-ghost/

 

Review of Laying Ghosts by Virginia King, a new #FREE short story ebook

book-cover

Having read and enjoyed both of Virginia King’s novels in her Selkie Moon Mystery Series—The First Lie and The Second Path—I was both excited and flattered when Virginia approached me back in February asking if I’d like to read her 10,000 word short story prequel to the series, now titled Laying Ghosts. Of course I said I’d love to.

At the time that Virginia approached me she was still in the process of developing the manuscript and wanted my honest opinion on what I liked/didn’t like as a fan of the series.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the story was how well-developed Virginia’s characters are—I instantly recognised Selkie from the novels and could picture her friend Rina well. And, of course, the story as a whole was strong and required very little work from an editorial point of view. In fact, my desire to publicly offer my services as a development editor partially arose from my experience of working on Laying Ghosts with Virginia.

When Selkie Moon plays sick in order to get out of attending husband Andrew’s business conference in Vanuatu, she finds herself with a full four days to herself. She decides to settle in with a glass of wine and have an early night. But that all changes when she receives a mysterious text message on her phone, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.

While Selkie and Rina were once best friends, they’ve not spoken to each other since attending a sinister house party nearly four years ago, at a remote beach house called Crystal Cottage. When Selkie responds to the text, she receives the same message back. ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.’ Uncertain as to what’s happening, Selkie decides to drive up to Crystal Cottage to meet her friend, and see if she’s okay.

When Selkie arrives, however, the house appears to be deserted. Or is it?

In Laying Ghosts, Virginia King slowly and tantalisingly reveals the mystery to her readers. As is usual with Virginia’s work, there are many layers to this story. A fantastic tale in its own right, it also provides a fascinating backdrop to Selkie’s later adventures.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the series, enjoying a great (free!) ghost story or have already read the novels but would like to know more about Selkie Moon, you’ll love Laying Ghosts.

“A strange message, a deserted beach house, a shocking incident from the past … Selkie Moon’s life will change forever.

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

A prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series plus your bonus first chapter of The First Lie.”

Laying Ghosts is available FREE from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iBooks:

https://books2read.com/u/38DEy6

And from Virginia’s website: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

You can follow Virginia King on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Check out Virginia’s website where you can also subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about Selkie’s latest adventure: http://www.selkiemoon.com/