Out at the end of June, my brand new picture book with gorgeous illustrations by Elena Bia, all pulled together by the fabulous team at Discover Kelpies. I can’t wait for you all to meet Bobby as a wee pup running around the streets of Auld Reekie!
I’m thrilled that The Revenge of Tirpitz has been given a makeover. Not that I didn’t love the previous cover, but every now and again things need a wee freshen up and Anne Glennie from Cranachan has done a wonderful job creating a cover that still encompasses the key themes of the book.
I’m thrilled that my new series Animal Adventure Club is out Spring 2019!
If there’s a wild animal in trouble, the Animal Adventure Club are here to help!
Isla, Buzz and Gracie love helping the rangers at their local nature reserve — and they love animals! So when a baby deer gets trapped, they’re the first to the rescue. Can they save the little creature — even with new girl Lexi getting in their way?
This is the first book in an exciting new series for young environmentalists following the adventures of the Animal Adventure Club as they care for wild animals in Scotland. It’s been a joy to write and research!
I had such a lovely morning on Friday with three classes at Baby Sensory Dundee. I was launching ‘This Bonny Baby’, a boardbook with adorable illustrations once again from Kasia. With its chunky format it’s perfect for little fingers.
The babies were all absolutely gorgeous and enjoyed the Bonny Baby puppet which was lovely. They interacted, they cuddled, they giggled, it was really funny and heartwarming. Who knew that such little souls would understand the humour of a puppet? I joked that it was like looking in the mirror for them….!
Well, two bits of exciting news to mention on my blog. The first is that The Fourth Bonniest Baby in Dundee has been shortlisted for the Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2018! What a thrill and an honour! Kasia and I had great fun making a wee film for the Scottish Book Trust and we’re both delighted that the book will be enjoyed by Primary 1 children across Scotland! Huge thanks to Scottish Book Trust and congrats to other shorlisted authors Chae Strathie and Debi Gliori.
Secondly – I’m thrilled that This Bonny Baby has just been published. This is a board book for tiny fingers with simple text and adorable illustrations by Kasia Matyjaszek. I’m really looking forward to doing a few mum and baby groups later this month to introduce them to the book!
I don’t normally post really personal thoughts on my blog. But I wanted to share this with you as I felt it might resonate. I visited a branch of Waterstones yesterday and had a good wander round. Normally I love going to bookshops but somehow this particular visit had an unwelcome effect; I felt overwhelmed. And my two books were nowhere to be seen.
I came away feeling despondant. Here am I attempting to be a writer and yet there are literally hundreds, thousands of books being published every year, filling the bookshelves. How does one compete?
But this morning I woke up and remembered the dream I’d had. Bear with me – I know it’s tiresome when people start reeling off their dreams. I was setting off on a walk but the walk became a climb and the climb was a seemingly never ending sheer face of ice. As I climbed I looked up and was dizzied with vertigo. I didn’t consider going back as some in front of me were. I decided to just focus on what was directly in front of me. Step by step I found foot holes in the ice. I hauled myself up with all my strength, never peeling my eyes away from my immediate path. Until finally, with immense satisfaction, I made it to the top. To safety.
Don’t look up guys, it’s too much. Too overwhelming. Tackle what’s directly in front of you. One step at a time.
Now, back to the writing………
With the centenary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele – one of the bloodiest of World War One, it reminded me of a piece of writing I did a few years back. I wrote a book (unpublished) about Dundee’s connection to WW1. Anyway, here’s a chapter….
‘Whit d’yeah think Mags and wee Robert are up tae the now?’ asked Alec. He was huddled up in a hole cut out of the wall of the trench that was currently home. He peered out and up to the dusky grey, sullen sky. It would soon be dark. Rain fell in great soaking swathes. Water rippled down the stacked up sand bags and corrugated iron sheets that lined the walls and gushed into the murky mud pool that was the trench floor. Days, weeks, months even had been passed in this way, day after day in the trenches. Waiting.
While Alec thought to himself, hopeful of a suggestion from Donald, crouched in his own hole on the opposite side of the trench, he stared intently at the curves and coils on the print of his thumb. Mud stained its fine lines and creases. He spat on his thumb and rubbed. But still the dirt remained. And still he rubbed. Like Lady Macbeth the mud was his blood, an ever present reminder of this hell. The mud was part of their life now. It was everywhere. They lived in it, tried to move in it, cooked, ate and slept in it. And as Alec was now experiencing, it was tattooed into their very flesh.
‘Dunno,’ said Donald quietly tracing his hand over the rough surface of a jute sandbag beside him. It could have been woven and made in Dundee. Maybe Maggie’s nimble hands had been responsible for this very piece.
‘Robert’ll be havin his tea, mi’be some porridge wi’ a bit of sugar,’ he sighed. ‘Maggie’ll just be back fae the mill,’ He paused. ‘Life’ll be jist the same fir them, except their rain’ll jist be soaking the streets o’ Dundee. They’ll be tucked up inside. At least she’ll hae no idea aboot aw this.’
He leant his head on the cold dampness of the dugout wall and let his mind wander back to home; to Maggie laughing and singing ‘Ally Bally, Ally Bally Bee,’ to wee Robert who would be chuckling; to the warmth of their room and the steady comfort of domestic life. A dull ache settled in the pit of his stomach. Suddenly that sandbag seemed too poignant a reminder of home.
‘That’s just it,’ said Charles who was attempting to smoke a cigarette in the pouring rain, standing ankle deep in water. ‘The chaps at home will never understand this life,’ he mused, smoke licking its way out of his lips. ‘The only ones who’ll ‘get it’ are other soldiers like us.’
‘And the Hun,’ chipped in Alec. He pointed in the direction of No Man’s Land with his muddy thumb. ‘They’re probably o’er there richt noo talkin’ aboot the same stuff. They’re probably sloppin’ around in the mud like us.’
‘Dreaming of warm beds, hot baths and home?’ added Charles smiling.
There was a long pause as they all considered this. The rain dripping on a corrugated iron sheet was rhythmical and soothing. But the constant reminder of battle, of impending doom was the distant boom of bombs somewhere further down the line.
Their sombre mood was quite suddenly interrupted by a boot flying out of Alec’s dugout. It came out with such force that Charles had to quickly dodge out of the way.
‘Hey!’ he yelled. ‘Watch out old chap!’ And then he realised what Alec was aiming for – a rat the size of a cat had been scurrying and swimming through the trench happy as you like. It had stopped to investigate an empty bully beef can that was nestled half floating in the swill. Alec had seized his chance. The boot knocked it square on the head and it keeled over with a small and yet satisfying splash! They cheered! Rat killing of this kind had become quite a sport.
‘Got yeh ya wee blighter!’ said Alec with bitter triumph. He then clambered out and spiked the poor devil on his bayonet. ‘I hope yer mates are watching. Let that be a warning tae the rest o’ yeah! I hate yous all!’ And he pulled his bayonet back like a catapult and flung the rat with some force over the side. Alec found this deeply satisfying.
‘Nice work Private,’ laughed Charles. ‘One down, only five million nine hundred thousand and ninety nine left!’ he shouted triumphantly. They all laughed. It was a moment of light relief.
‘Aye, them and the lice,’ remarked Donald who’d begun running lit matches up and down his coat hoping to scorch their tiny bodies. ‘They ‘Scots Greys’ are the bain o’ ma life.’
Billy appeared along the trench.
‘Captain Dixon’s on his way. Look lively lads,’ he said and gave Alec’s ear lobe a hearty flick. Alec threw him a frown and rubbed his ear. ‘He’s wanting us fir a working party the night,’ he continued. ‘And that’s jist the start. There’s talk o’a big offensive.’
‘Braw,’ muttered Donald bitterly. ‘Just in time fer w’our move tae the front trench. Means we’ll be goin’ o’er the top.’
He looked anxiously over to Alec who was now quiet and pensive once more. He was lost, deep in thought.
Charles seemed thrilled with the news. ‘At last!’ he cheered. ‘About time we got to get out there instead of being the part-timers. I’m fed up digging trenches. I want to fight! It’s our turn! Time to make Dundee proud! We’ll be welcomed home as heroes!’
Donald nodded. But fear overwhelmed him. And he worried for Alec. Every night he was awoken by Alec crying out in the depths of a nightmare. The terrors of war gripped him even in his sleep.
‘At least we’ll get oot of these blasted trenches,’ remarked Alec quietly, hunched in the bitter cold. Darkness was beginning to fall. Captain Dixon, their officer, arrived and the men quickly jumped up.
‘Gather your wits about you boys,’ he said with boyish enthusiasm, ‘We’re to head out into No Man’s Land tonight. Wiring party,’ he said cheerfully as if announcing a boy scout picnic. And with a quick nod of the head, he waded further down the trench.
Alec felt his stomach knot. He looked down and realised his hands were shaking. They all stared at one another with taught faces. A trip into No Man’s Land at night was deathly. And although they never said it out loud, they all wondered if this day would be their last.
‘Right,’ said Charles smartly, deftly flicking away his cigarette end. ‘Better get to it then.’ And with that, they began to make preparations to leave the safety of their trench.
When I set out to write The Revenge of Tirpitz I didn’t really analyse too closely my target age range. I set out to write a tense, gripping thriller and hoped it would have mass appeal. Mmmmm – there’s nothing like optimism. But there comes a point when you have to make a decision – particularly when you are pitching to publishers and agents. So I initially thought Young Adults: late teens perhaps? Early feedback from a publisher who took a look at a draft suggested that perhaps a younger audience would be more appropriate….around 9- 12. So I focussed in and when Cranachan signed me, we mutually agreed that this market would be ideal for schools. The Revenge of Tirpitz tied in nicely with class projects on WW2. But you know, when it comes to the bit, you just never know who might be drawn to your book…..
I’ve had several emails now from the over 50s, male market who have stumbled upon my book in libraries or online and have really enjoyed it! Whooopeee!!! How fantastic! I’ve posted up a comment I received on my blog below and it’s really got me thinking. Perhaps I’ve been too narrow in limiting my marketing to youngsters? It reminds me of the Maurice Sendak quote: “I don’t write for children. I write, and somebody says, ‘that’s for children.'” Idealistic perhaps? But at the end of the day, a good read is a good read…..and I like to believe, we’re all young at heart.
“It’s Christmas Day!” the bairns all shriek.
Our Bonnie Baby takes a peek
To see his stocking filled with sweets and toys.
A teddy, a train, some coins, a cracker,
A Santa in a shiny wrapper –
He’s chocolate! Bonnie Baby has a lick.
He rips and bites, grips Santa tight.
The chocolate melts – we thought it might!
Och no! Our bonnie baby’s in a state!
He’s sticky, claggie, clarty too,
Head to toe in chocolatey goo!
The tastiest Christmas baby in Dundee.
It’s been a funny old week. I’ve just moved house. I am surrounded by boxes and chaos. I can’t find anything. I’ve had so many heated discussions with call centres organising gas/electricity you name it, my head is fit to burst. The dog has barely been walked and is pinging around like a loon. And in the midst of all this….my book is out tomorrow. I just want to tell you about it. Not the plot. Not the themes. Just about how I wrote it. It took me two years. It was my escape from domesticity, my secret focus to daydream about while I washed dishes, cleaned, in between my little boy’s nap times and doing the school run. I wrote it because I had just been rejected for the gazzilionth time; I had failed to be shortlisted for everything. I sobbed in my bedroom and told my husband I was utterly disappointed with myself. But I kept writing. And researching. And writing. It’s out tomorrow. I hope you like it. M xx