Book Week Scotland and me

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BookWeekScotland2015The week-long celebration of books and reading across Scotland has begun.

It includes a host of free events showcasing many of the nation’s authors, poets, playwrights, performers, illustrators and book lovers who are all coming together “to celebrate everything wonderful about the written word.”

Brought to bookshops, libraries, schools and loads of venues in over 400 events across the country, Book Week Scotland will highlight the words and works of some of the best Scottish wordsmiths and a few who are not so well known.

The week stars people like Michael Faber, David MacPhail, Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, Diana Gabaldon, Paula Hawkins, Neil Oliver, Kate Mosse, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, AL Kennedy, Christopher Brookmyre, Michael J Malone and me.

As part of my debut into the public domain, I will be at Waterstones, Dumfries, in a Meet the Author session with Ayrshire crime writer Michael J Malone. The event takes place on Tuesday, 24 November,  at 6pm and, although I’m not certain how it will go as I normally shy away from any kind of public gathering starring me, like my writing I will just let it evolve.

Michael J is one of those authors who can write just about anything … and writes it well. His normal genre is Tartan Noir with a twist – a bit like a Martini with a Scotch Bonnet chilli. He takes a Scottish crime scene and turns it on its head to reveal the darkness in the characters affected by the stories’ events. His award-winning crime books, Blood Tears, A Taste for Malice and Beyond the Rage are the kind of page turners expected of a high level writer.

He has also ghost written an historical novel, The Guillotine Choice, based on a true account of a 1920s Algerian, sent to Devil’s Island for a crime he did not commit.

Not content with crossing the genres of fiction, Michael has also ventured into non-fiction with his book on self-development: Carnegie’s Call.

And that’s not all. Michael has turned his talents to provide professional editorial and mentoring services which will inspire and help green-gilled authors to perfect their talents.

You can read all about Michael and his books here.

My second venture into the big wide world of publicity this week involves going on a Ghost Talk with Dumfries ghosthunter Kathleen Cronie.

Those wonderful people at Dumfries and Galloway Libraries invited me to take on one of their events at Kirkcudbright Library and I couldn’t think of a more fitting partner than Kathleen whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the region’s favourite haunts have inspired some of her most successful ghost walks with her team of ghostbusters Mostly Ghostly.

Kathleen is an interesting and eloquent speaker who tends to keep her audience captivated while she recounts some of her hair-raising stories of ghastly goings-on in Dumfries and Galloway’s violent past.

Her presence marries well with my second novel, The Ghost Tree, which was published in early October.

The book is set in Kirkcudbrightshire and was inspired by one of the world’s most well-known poltergeists – The Mackie or Rerrick Parish Poltergeist. You can read all about it here.

I am still hearing stories from people who once lived or are still living close to that haunted steading. Incredibly, during my book launch in October, a lady came up to me and told me that she used to live in a house near the steading. When playing in the field, her brothers would mimic the shepherd and try to round-up sheep. She said that the flock always avoided being herded into a corner of the dyke: the corner close to the Ghost Tree. She told me one day they saw a strange, ghostly figure standing at that same corner and believed in the poltergeist.

I would love to hear more stories about Rerrick and the steading and Kathleen will be looking for local ghost stories for a book she is writing on some of the region’s best haunts.

The event takes place on Thursday, 26 November at 7pm and everyone is invited to come along for a good old Ghost Talk before going home alone in the dark!

Natural inspiration

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Ardvreck Castle, Inchnadamph, Assynt, Sutherland

Visited my favourite place in the world, recently: the north west Highlands.

This land holds an ancient natural beauty that is wild and unsullied and there is nowhere more inspirational to a fantasy writer like me.
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The edge of Rubha Duilich overlooking Enard Bay, Ross and Cromarty

So inspirational, in fact, that the main character from The Ghost Tree is a native of Sutherland.
Here are a few sepia snaps with a bit of added noise (to those photo techies out there) to illustrate what I mean.
This place should be on everyone’s bucket list.
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Applecross Bay looking on to the Isle of Skye, Ross and Cromarty

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Achnahaird Bay, Coigach Peninsula, Ross and Cromarty

Ghost story takes root

Amazon, books, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, paranormal fiction, Suilven, Sutherland, The Ghost Tree

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Finding inspiration as a writer comes easily when you live in an inspiring place, rich in scenery, culture, heritage and lore … lots of lore.

My second novel, The Ghost Tree, is due to be published on October 1 this year by Urbane Publications.

Staying true to my unhealthy dislike of genre compartmentalisation, this is a paranormal romance, thriller, crime fiction with its roots firmly planted in a ‘true’ poltergeist account that allegedly took place in the Parish of Rerrick, Auchencairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 1695.

You can read the published account by Alexander Telfair, the minister who performed the two-week-long exorcism, here: http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/dumfriesshire/hauntings/rerrick-poltergeist-1695.html

The old gnarled tree in the picture is all that remains of the haunted plantation in Telfair’s account, then called The Ringcroft of Stocking, where stone mason and farmer Andrew MacKie contended with a violent noisy spirit that pestered his family for a few months at the turn of the 17th century.

There were three trees in living memory. The locals call them ‘The Ghost Trees’. The two beeches died some time ago. This enduring oak was more resilient to the sweeping winds of the Solway hills and has survived both the ravages of time and, if Telfair’s account is to be believed, the poltergeist.

Legend has it that, when the last of the Ghost Trees dies, the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist will return.

My work of contemporary fiction took me to surprising places, from the realms of the dead to quantum physics, and my research on the subject came up with more unanswered questions than solutions to the phenomena of the paranormal and supernatural.

I’m still unsure whether I believe that “a ghost” can be described as a visitation from the dead, a symptom of a vivid imagination or a piece of observable data from a scientific equation. What is evident from all the theories and accounts I have read and all the ‘experts’ I have spoken to, is that many people truly believe that the dead can in some way return from the grave and interact with the living. It is also worrying to note that it seems to take a ritual involving God to remove it.

The Ghost Tree follows the misfortunes of a young man, MacAoidh Armstrong, who unwittingly buys a smallholding on the former subjects of the MacKie plantation. The ghost tree has died and the poltergeist has returned, but the pragmatic and stubborn Highlander does not believe in ghosts.

As the story unfolded during its construction, I found there was far more than the paranormal to contend with when a violent spirit haunts a 21st century home.

The result was a terrifying but fascinating journey for me, especially when I was writing it in the middle of the night with my back to a draughty door.

Whether I believe in ghosts or not, I am still uncomfortable with the inexplicable and, until science proves one way or another that death is merely a transition into another form of existence, I will still need the light on at night when I face the reality of going to the loo.