News from the capital…

The scene is set for murder…but whodunnit?

So, the news from the Burgh is that Capital Writer Jennifer has  jumped genre, adopted a pseudonym, changed locations, found an agent and joined another publisher. Jennifer has signed a contract with Aria Fiction for the first three in a new detective series, though she’ll still be with Tirgearr for her contemporary romance and self-publishing her romantic suspense series.

The new series is set in the Lake District and introduces DCI Jude Satterthwaite. Jude is a troubled soul: his father abandoned his mother, leaving him to be father figure to his rebellious younger brother Mikey, and his dedication to his job led to a split from his long-term partner, Becca Reid, with whom he is still in love. But it looks like he might be distracted from his broken heart, if not cured of it, by the arrival of a new member of his team, the talented but emotionally vulnerable Ashleigh O’Halloran. The first book in the series, topically enough, occurs in a long, hot summer where a wildfire on a fellside dies down to reveal a body, setting Jude, Ashleigh and their colleagues a puzzle. Who died, why — and who did it?

The first book will be available in spring 2019, and Jennifer will be writing under the name Jo Allen.

Watch this space for updates.


Books by Stealth

Books by Stealth has a slightly sinister aura, but this is an innocent post. Across on my own blog, Novels Now, I’ve been involved in a series of Round Robin postings. You know the sort of thing: a topic is announced and all the participants write a post giving their take on it.

The most recent one asked us how we encouraged our children or anyone to read. It has proved immensely popular and the most common thread has been ‘by example’. Read yourself and read to children and they’ll very quickly decide they want that skill and opportunity, too.

One practice I’ve developed over the years is to buy a book of short, but related essays or chapters and leave it in the sitting-room or public area when the family are gathered for Christmas, Easter or Summer holidays. Another example of carrots and sticks. (Having done duty as photographic props, the DH and I ate the carrots last night in a lamb and barley hotpot.)

I’m not talking here about the ten-minute reads brought out specially for the Christmas Market, but works that are a little more substantial while still being accessible.

Simon Hoggart’s Round Robin Letters (coincidental choice this) was the first. My family like Round Robin Christmas letters and often read them over the holiday. Some of the ones Hoggart had sourced for his collection are side-splittingly awful.

What ploys do you use to encourage reading and discussion? We’d love to hear about them.


Capital Writer Kate at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I have been going to events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival since it began in 1983. My first baby was born in 1988 so my Book Festival going has encompassed events for wide-eyed tots and tweens that have entered into our family history. What can demonstrate mother-love – and patience! – more than queuing with an excited small girl for an hour and a half to meet Jacqueline Wilson, surrounded by a million other excited small girls? And we will always remember the year our ecstatic eleven-year-old son was picked to ask JK Rowling a question about The Prisoner of Azkhaban.

I’ve been at events for adults too that can never ever be repeated – Muriel Spark’s visit to the Festival when her autobiography came out, for example. When she read from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and five hundred people waited for her to say ‘la crème de la crème’ – I doubt I will ever again hear so palpable a silence.

Thirty-five years on (gulp) still finds me pounding down the road to Charlotte Square; I am lucky enough to live a brisk fifteen-minutes’ walk away. Every year I try to do the maths – the number of calories expended in getting there versus the number ingested in the café …

Highlights of 2018 so far:

Landreth ticket 2

I heard Jenny Landreth talking about her book Swell: A Waterbiography, part-memoir, part history of women swimming (and Sunday Times Sport Book of the Year 2017); it sounds fascinating. Jenny is one of those hardy souls who swims outdoors all year round, in a lido in Tooting.

swimmers cardi

She was wearing a fab cardigan and during questions at the end someone asked her where she got it. It was from this site – everyone must have dashed home and ordered it because it is sold out.

Miss Blaine's Prefect copy

Olga Wojtas did a great double act with ES Thomson in an event, chaired by Sally Magnusson, which was recorded for the Sally’s Sunday morning BBC Radio Scotland programme (to go out on 19 August). Both authors have written historical crime novels; Olga’s time-travelling heroine moves between Edinburgh and Tsarist Russia, while Elaine’s apothecary protagonist is in London in the 1850s – although Olga confessed that she thought she had written ‘a romp’ and was surprised to hear it categorised as crime. There is no doubt, though, that both books are fab – highly recommended.

The Blood

Two books I’ve loved in the last few years have been The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon so I was very interested to see her. She was on with Jess Kidd.

Cannon and Kidd ticket 2


Three things about Elsie copy


Both have a background in caring professions – Joanna as a doctor and psychiatrist, and Jess as a support worker – which has informed their writing and given them the black humour necessary to cope with tragic situations.

Rip it up

Rip it up fast-tracked a very enthusiastic audience through fifty years of Scottish pop. If you weren’t there (are you square??) you can see the exhibition of the same name at the National Museum of Scotland.

As a regular listener of Mariella Frostrup’s Open Book programme on Radio 4 (4pm) I got a ticket to go to the recording of Sunday August 19th’s edition. A panel of five guests (three of them called Sarah) discussed the role of literary critics today. I hope I am able to listen to the programme – it will be interesting to see what they kept from the hour-long event and what was edited to fit half that time.

Closer to home was a talk about the 15,000-strong book collection held by the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile; it is currently being catalogued (volunteers wanted!). Their exhibition, Growing up with Books, showcasing some of their titles, is on until 9 December and the staff, along with Scotland’s Early Literature for Children initiative at Edinburgh University, have produced a book to go with it. A visit  is something booky to look forward to when the Book Festival is over for another year …

Growing up with books


Capital Writer Anne at the Edinburgh Festival

Over on my own plays’ blog, I’ve been telling everyone how much I enjoyed MIDSUMMER. I thought I might repeat that here.

MIDSUMMER by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, and directed by Kate Hewitt, was a bittersweet start to our Festival 2018. Midsummer’s production is supported by Brenda Rennie in memory of her husband, Donald Rennie who died last year. Donald and Brenda have been loyal supporters of the Festivals over many years and Donald served on the Board. Both the Rennies are dear friends.

To the production-

Midsummer was originally created for two actors and a musician, but has been re-written for four actors, with contribution from a fifth who is also in the band, and a three-piece ensemble. I didn’t  see the original so am unable to regale you with comparison. I hugely enjoyed this show.

Fast-paced and demanding of its cast, the older Helena and Bob, tell their tale and the two younger live it out. Mid-thirties, successful or foot-loose, but without a stable relationship is a dangerous moment. Is CHANGE POSSIBLE ?

Songs, farce, drama, pathos and ultimately uplifting, Midsummer has it all. Take care walking on the arena at the end, the silver paper is slippy.

I was particularly impressed by the actors’ movement and must mention Jenny Ogilvie the Movement Director. Benny Young, the older actor, told whole life stories in a few seconds of movement. Brilliant stuff.

Run continues, not Tuesdays, 8pm, till Sunday 26th August at the Hub, Castlehill.



In the Blink of an Eye by Ali Bacon













In Scotland, the 18th and early 19th centuries were a time known as the Enlightenment, a period of great intellectual and scientific advances.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Scotland’s capital city. One worthy of the time said: ‘Here stand I at what is called the Cross of Edinburgh and can in a few minutes take fifty men of genius by the hand.’

He was right – and of course in one way he was also wrong. Women also played a part in the Enlightenment, as this book shows.

In 1843 there was advancement of another sort when four hundred ministers of the established Church of Scotland walked away from their parishes, their manses and their stipends in protest (to put it briefly) at the long-held practice of landowners, rather than congregations, choosing local ministers. In what came to be known as the Disruption, four hundred black-clad minsters and their supporters literally walked away, down Hanover Street and over the Water of Leith to their new headquarters. It must have been a most dramatic sight.

It certainly inspired artist D(avid) O(ctavius) Hill, the main subject of In the Blink of an Eye. Hitherto a landscape painter, he nevertheless resolved on the task of executing a painting incorporating all four hundred of them – and not only that, he wanted each minister to be properly represented, to look like themselves, not as ciphers.

At first he thought to sketch each man before they dispersed from the capital – a massive undertaking. But then one of those scientific advances of the time came to his rescue. Photography was in its infancy and Scotland was at the forefront of its development. Robert Adamson, building on the work of Fox Talbot in England, produced ‘calotypes’ using paper coated with silver iodides. Together Adamson and Hill (the two names are now remembered as a pair, as well as individually) photographed the ministers in preparation for the painting.

Brought together by the Disruption, the two men went on to form a working partnership producing calotypes – Hill the artist and Adamson the chemist. It was, however, to be another twenty-three years before Hill completed his astonishing painting.

Bookended as it were by the story of one (fictional) Perthshire minister who travels to Edinburgh to see the finished painting and is chagrined to find he is not in it, we have here what is not so much a novel as fictionalised biography – not only of D O (as even his second wife called him) but also of several interesting women with whom he came in contact. It’s a device that works well and some of the women, famous in their own right, can (must!) be further read about. There is a good reference list at the end to help with this.

Hill, a widower at the beginning of the book, was evidently a delightful man, kind, sociable and attractive, devoted to his only child, Chattie. His business partner Robert Adamson will always be remembered as a photography pioneer – who knows what he would have gone on to do had he not died at twenty-six.

The first woman we meet is Jane Adamson, devoted sister of Robert (and of John who is also remembered for his photography). Jane’s domestic duties on the family farm in Fife prevented her from accompanying her delicate brother, as she wished to do, when he moved to Edinburgh with its crowded streets and bad public health. Then there’s Jessie Mann, now thought to be the first Scottish female photographer, who experimented at home with calotypes before becoming assistant to Hill and Adamson. We also see Jessie through the eyes of her sister May.

Amelia Paton, a sculptress, helped Hill to finish the painting. Writer and scholar Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) became infamous for her scathing early review of Jane Eyre; she and her family sat for their portraits and she and Hill became close friends. Elizabeth Kemp comes into the story because her husband, architect of Princes Street’s Scott Monument, disappeared, presumed drowned, and photography meant that at least she had his likeness.

Mary Gowans was connected to Hill through her friendship with Amelia Paton. She married, as his second wife, James Gowans, the renowned architect (suspected of doing away with his first wife). Chattie Hill, young daughter of Hill, tried to match-make him with Amelia. And the final Elizabeth, Elizabeth Hall, was a Newhaven fisherwoman. Hill and Adamson’s photographs of the fishing community are one of their finest legacies.

In the Blink of an Eye is the story of fascinating people who lived at a fascinating period of history in, yes, a fascinating city. I do recommend this capital book.

Published by Linen Press at £7.99.

About the author

Ali Bacon was born in Fife and graduated from St Andrews University. After a career as an academic librarian her first novel, Kettle of Fish, was published in 2012 by Thornberry. Chapters from In the Blink of an Eye have been listed in literary competitions and excerpts were performed at the St Andrews Photography Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016.


Choosing characters

People often ask writers how they invent their characters.  Based on someone they know?  Hate? Love? Are inspired by?  Would love to be?   On a writing course while struggling with literary theory, in a last ditch effort to demonstrate some connection with this, I included a cat in my final assignment – Bakhtin, fantasy grandchild of the famous Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher.  (An inclusion that nevertheless didn’t endear me to the markers.)  Thus, the character of Bakhtin, a Russian cat who comes to Edinburgh to learn to write, was created.  Bakhtin’s experience of academia was made bearable only by his flatmates and fellow students, a miscellany of animals, and as with humans, displaying their strengths and weaknesses.

Having survived his two year course, Bakhtin hasn’t returned to Moscow.  He has discovered a desire is to travel.  And for an impecunious cat, what better way to do so, than by receiving free accommodation in return for looking after other people’s pets?  As Bakhtin’s creator, I am constantly searching for animals he can care for when their owners are on holiday.

An opportunity arose several weeks ago when I was taken on to look after a ferret in the south of France.  I knew nothing about ferrets.  But the photos of Molly were appealing. And friends told me that ferrets are lovely animals. It isn’t their fault that they’ve received a bad press: we “ferret” around for things; ferrets smell.  Molly was delightful.  Yes, she was fascinated by my toes, manifested in frequent nibbling of them, but that was fun.  She was naughty, expending much of her energy destroying the under side of the sofa. Given the chance, she’d sneak out of her cage with a cube of chicken – cooked or raw – and, tired of eating it, leave the remains behind something.  Before doing a poo, she’d reverse into her chosen place.  No one could resist her little face.  Her sense of fun.  And within hours of meeting her, secretly auditioning her for a role in The Bakhtin Chronicles: Pet Sitting, I awarded her a part.

Watch this space….


A Few of my Favourite Things…

There are so many things I love. I love sunshine and shadows racing each other across hillsides; I love the squeak of fresh snow underneath my shoe and a cat curled in front of the fire when I come in from it; I love bread making machines and fresh coffee made from recyclable coffee pods (hello, Nespresso, you planet-loving coffee god!). *sings* Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

I love something else, too. I love words and what you do with them. I love a good book that I can curl up with in front of that warm fire, preferably with a cup of that environmentally-friendly coffee. And to make my Valentine’s Day complete, I’ve just downloaded a new collection of short stories from fellow Capital Writer Kate.

I love Kate’s writing, especially the way she takes ordinary people in ordinary situations and makes something heartwarming and entertaining from them — just one of the reasons why she’s such a successful short story writer. Today she brings fourteen of them together in one volume, The Palace of Complete Happiness: and other love stories. If you missed them in the magazines, you can get them now.

Can’t stop. The fire’s lit, the cat’s curled up on the hearth and the coffee machine awaits. Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I’m off to read Kate’s book…


Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal in my home.  Admittedly, it took me years to accept that my partner might forget the day or choose to ignore it as his way of countering rampant commercialism.  I learned to realise that it’s what happens between us throughout the year that’s important and that flowers might, and often do, arrive at any time, when he feels like buying them, lilies on Christmas Eve, for example. This is okay. Yes, really. Having said that, I have dropped hints that should he be buying me flowers in the near future, I’d love to have freesias. And as we’ve been apart for several weeks (him due to work, me due to pet sitting in Switzerland), I’m fairly confident there’ll be flowers awaiting my arrival home on Friday evening.

As for past Valentine’s Days, not many stories here. The first card I remember receiving stated: “If you want to be the only pebble on the beach, you’ll have to be a little boulder”.  Nice, yes.  One year I received a card which said: “Who’s my little whosis? Yous is.”  Well, I was thrilled. Perhaps not award winning poetry, but, hey, I had an admirer. Walking downstairs with an inner glow, I saw my mother grinning at me on the ground floor. She’d sent the card. I could have wept. I could have committed grievous bodily harm.

Another year – before my partner’s time – when I couldn’t face work and colleagues’ conversations about cards, flowers, chocolates received, in the knowledge that I was no one’s special someone, I sprinkled a handful of envelopes of varied size and colour on my hall floor, so that when I stepped out of the flat to go to work on the day, I couldn’t instantly tell that the postman hadn’t delivered a card for. Now that was sad.

Today, like fellow Capital Writer Anne, I have treated myself to Kate’s The Palace of Complete Happiness.  This is guaranteed to make a happy day, in addition to being in this beautiful place.

Lutry, on Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Roses are red

 The Palace of Complete Happiness   Congratulations to fellow Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder, on the publication of this latest collection of short stories. I’ve treated myself to a Valentine’s Day copy and, having read all of Kate’s earlier collections, I know it’s going to be a great Valentine’s Day pressie to self.

There’s a lot to be said for pressie’s to self on Valentine’s Day. Around here, they haven’t gone in much for ‘manufactured’ high days. So I’ve never had to return inappropriate lingerie, rescue dying red roses or pretend the box of chocolates was empty on arrival. The only unsigned Valentine’s card, I ever received came in the mail during my first professional posting. It was exciting, but exhausting. And, if you who sent it are reading this, then thank you, but it’s really too late now.

Call me a grumpy old woman, but I do love the incidental gifts which arrive and brighten up any old day. I used to take my aunt flowers throughout the year, but not on her birthday when the rest of her extended family sent them in vast quantity. It’s lovely to be honoured from time to time and to return the favour.

Here’s a wee offering, dear reader, from me to you. Oh, and like me, you could treat yourself to The Palace of Complete Happiness.