Who do MSPs wish they were? Audacious Women Festival @AWFest

In a departure from books today, I’m going to tell you a bit about an event I attended this afternoon at The Scottish Parliament as part of the Audacious Women Festival. Don’t worry, I’m not going all political on you! First of all what does that word audacious mean? I’ve always thought it had negative connotations as in ‘having the audacity to do something’ usually meaning having the cheek to do it. There are two meanings though. One is ‘showing an impudent lack of respect’ but the other is ‘showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks’. It is the second kind of audacity which is being explored at this festival.


At this event, four Members of the Scottish Parliament, chaired by Geraldine Wooley from the Festival, talked a bit about audacious women who had inspired them. (Thanks to Sophie Castle for letting me use her photo of the panel above.) I’m a bit ashamed to say that I had only heard of one of their choices, although I had an excuse when it came to Rhoda Grant’s choice as you will see!


First we heard from Alison Johnstone, an MSP for The Green Party representing Lothian. She told us about Wangari Maathai. Wangari was a Kenyan environmental campaigner who among many firsts was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize and the first woman for whom a state funeral was held in Kenya. She worked tirelessly campaigning for women’s rights and environmental conservation. Her organisation,  the Green Belt Movement, focused on planting trees and she was known as ‘Mama Trees’. She was jailed for standing up to the government and commercial organisations and refused to be submissive. Alison said she was audacious as she led by example and spoke up on issues that mattered. She inspired Alison to get out in the community, to get involved and be active.

Next was Rhoda Grant, a Labour MSP representing Highlands and Islands. I don’t have a photo of her audacious woman as it is her granny, Catherine McCush (apologies if that’s spelled wrongly). Rhoda said that when she was little and asked what she wanted to be she said a granny! She hugely admired her granny who ruled the roost in a man’s world. She was married at 18 and moved with her husband and his four brothers far from her family, She had six children while living a nine mile walk, as it was in those days, from any medical assistance. She was a hard worker with a bad temper whose nickname behind her back was Fiery Kate. Rhoda said being called Kate would have annoyed her more than being called Fiery! Despite this, she saw humour in everything. She was audacious in seeing what needed done and just getting on with it. Rhoda pointed out that we are all shaped by the people who came before us who worked to create a better world, collectively building change. Those who make a difference aren’t always famous! She inspired Rhoda in showing that ordinary women can step up and make a difference in their communities.


Jenny Gilruth, SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, chose Winnie Ewing as her audacious woman. Winnie Ewing was elected as MP for Hamilton in 1967. Hamilton was considered a safe Labour seat and her victory was rather unexpected. At the time she was the only SNP Member of Parliament and was subject to a lot of misogynistic abuse. She was 100s of miles from her family with no political support so it was rather a lonely life.  She had three young children and was a practising solicitor and the media focussed on her role as a mother and not her political achievements. Sometimes I wonder if we have made much progress! She was also an MEP known as Madame Ecosse and was Britain’s longest serving MEP. In 1999 she was elected MSP for Highlands and Islands in the first Session of the Scottish Parliament and as the oldest MSP presided over its opening. Jenny admires her as she challenged the political status quo in  a very different political scene and made a difference to  the perception of  women politicians. Jenny was inspired by Winnie Ewing to find common ground with other politicians whatever their differences, to try speak to everyone on a human level.


Last to speak was Annie Wells, Conservative MSP for Glasgow. She had chosen Mary Barbour as her audacious woman. Mary Barbour was a political activist, councillor and magistrate who was instrumental in organising the women who took part in the rent strike of 1915. Unscrupulous landlords were taking advantage of the need for accommodation in Glasgow during WW1 and were raising the rents. Thousands of women marched with ship workers to raise awareness of the issue. Annie finds her inspirational as she was from a normal working class background, just an ordinary woman who wanted to get things done and was so influential. She showed that it didn’t matter what your background is, if you want to make a change, you can take the steps to do it.

Geraldine Wooley then asked those attending about audacious women who inspired them, saying she greatly admired early women explorers such as Gertrude Bell and Isabella Bird. She felt they displayed amazing courage travelling as lone women in a world with little communication as we know it today and in a world where often only men travelled.

One of the audience said she admired Margaret Sievwright who was born in Pencaitland and emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870s. She became involved in the women’s suffragette movement which in 1893 saw New Zealand become only the second country in the world to give women to vote. She continued to work for women’s rights after this.

Another audience member spoke of how we often focus on people who have done big things but that we should also look to our families to find audacious women. The small things done by people in our own families can inspire us in small ways. Even choosing to become a mother, perhaps giving up a career, could be seen to be audacious today.

Another audience member recited a poem she had written, perhaps called ‘Broke the Mould’ which was about women who had changed the way we live today. It was a great way to end the session.

Geraldine finished by reminding us that what can seem ordinary and everyday to someone can be audacious to someone else. Audacious acts are being carried out every day by audacious women in all walks of life.

It was a most enjoyable and informative session and I’d like to thank the organisers. The Audacious Women Festival continues until Sunday and you can find out about the remaining events on the website Audacious Women.

Sins of the Father by @SherylBrowne #review @choclituk

Sins of the Father ebook by Sheryl Browne

I was lucky enough to read this book quite a few months ago when it was still at the stage of being considered for publication by ChocLit under their Death by ChocLit label. I didn’t know at the time it was written by Sheryl Browne, whose romance novels I really love. Sins of the Father is the sequel to After She’s Gone which was published on Tuesday. Sins of the Father will follow next week on 28th February.

I LOVED this book. It is a terrific thriller that I literally couldn’t put down! The main character DI Matthew Adams’ life goes out of control when he is set up by someone to makes it look like he has committed a terrible crime. The story follows his desperate attempts to prove his innocence, especially to his wife Rebecca, while the person who is out to get him has plans which put his family at risk.

I was gripped by the story from the beginning and the tension is kept up the whole way through the book. The writing style with viewpoints from all the main characters really made me feel like I was right there, watching the action. And there was plenty action right to the very end.

The characters were very believable and likeable – apart from Jasmine but you’re not meant to like her, of course. She is a really nasty piece of work and very very clever. I even felt a bit sorry for her sidekick who she tricked into helping her. Matthew’s wife Rebecca doesn’t feature hugely but when she does, she is someone you feel a lot of sympathy for. She’s been through so much yet has remained a loving and dedicated wife to Matthew, trusting him implicitly. Even her trust is shaken by the events but at heart she knows her husband is innocent of what he is being accused of.

A fast paced read packed with lots of dramatic incidents. Would make a great film too! Sheryl Browne can clearly write a gripping thriller just as well as she can write an emotional love story.

From the back of the book

What if you’d been accused of one of the worst crimes imaginable?

Detective Inspector Matthew Adams is slowly picking up the pieces from a case that nearly cost him the lives of his entire family and his own sanity too. On the surface, he seems to be moving on, but he drinks to forget and when he closes his eyes, the nightmares still come.

But the past is the past or is it? Because the evil Patrick Sullivan might be out of the picture, but there’s somebody who is just as intent on making Matthew’s life hell, and they’re doing it in the cruellest way possible.

When Matthew finds himself accused of a horrific and violent crime, will his family stand by him? And will he even be around to help when his new enemy goes after them as well?

What Not to Say to a Writer! Guest post by Karen Murdarasi @kcmurdarasi


I’m pleased to be joined today by Karen Murdarasi. I met Karen when she was reading at Noir at The Bar in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. Her story about a secretary who accidentally kills her boss was very funny! Karen is a Scottish author of books for adults and young people. After studying Ancient History at the University of St Andrews, she served as a missionary in Albania for a few years, taking home a husband as a souvenir. She now lives in Glasgow and spends a lot of time with her beautiful nieces.

Today she explains the top things not to say to a writer. Her piece certainly made me smile and will make me think more carefully about how I talk to authors in future!

You can connect with Karen and find out more at these links


Top Five Things Not to Say to a Writer

Writers are a touchy bunch. We are often more sensitive than the rest of the population, which makes us better at observing people, relationships and the world. That’s very handy for writing interesting stories, but less helpful when it comes to dealing with the inevitable rejections (“I’m a failure! No one likes my work!”) or to interacting with non-writers, and their well-meaning questions.

This is inevitably a personal list, but I’m sure there are a few phrases on here that make other writers’ hearts sink too. So here’s my take on what not to say to a writer.

What do you write?

Yes, I know, this is a perfectly reasonable question, and it’s probably a welcome question if you’re the kind of writer who has found a comfortable niche and can happily answer “crime fiction” or “political thrillers” or “magical realism set in Welsh former mining villages”. But I am left either mumbling something unhelpful about “different things” or listing the various genres I write in, from YA historical adventures stories to Christian devotional material to darkly humorous contemporary short stories, while your eyes glaze over and you start to back away.

A better question is “what are you working on just now?” That I can answer, that I can talk about, and if you look genuinely interested you might be there for some time. In fact, do you want to take some pages and give me comments?

Have you written anything I would have seen/heard of?

You remember that one about international religious conspiracy? The one with Tom Hanks in the film? No, that wasn’t me.

How do I answer this question? I don’t know what magazines or websites you read. Maybe you’ve seen my work, maybe you haven’t – but given the number of books, magazines and websites that are out there, it’s far more likely that you haven’t. So what this question does is force me to admit that no, I am not famous, I am not especially successful, I do not have a glittering literary career (yet). So thanks for that.

By the way, someone once said pretty much the opposite of this question to me: “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you.” I could have kissed her.

Have you had anything published?

On the other hand, some people’s expectations are too low. You might not have seen my books in the window at Waterstones, but if you ask me what I do and I say “I’m an author”, it would be pretty strange if I’d never had anything published. I bake some pretty amazing cakes but I don’t say “I’m a baker” when people ask what I do. Unlike my cakes, people pay (at least occasionally) for my writing; it’s my profession. But I shrink from saying “I’m a professional author” because I can’t help feeling it makes me sound like a fraud. I mean, when was the last time someone was introduced to you as a “professional doctor”?

“Have you had anything published recently” is a bit better. If I have, I love to be asked this, but if you catch me during a dry patch you will just increase my feelings of despondency.

You should write my life story.

Or my mother’s life story, or my father’s, or my next-door neighbours, or this bloke I met once, can’t remember his name; it would make a great book!

Oh, where to start with this one? Firstly, I write mainly fiction. You’re probably familiar with that; it means making stuff up. I have plenty of ideas, ideas are not the problem; writing it up into a story is the problem. If I have time and energy, I’m going to spend it on my own creations, not someone else’s life story.

Secondly, biography doesn’t usually sell, however interesting it might be, unless it’s of someone famous. My great uncle had a fascinating life, but if I ever do write an account of it, there would be no point in publishing it commercially because only people who knew him would ever want to read it. In fact, I’ve had a pretty interesting life myself so far; if I can’t even be bothered to write my own memoirs, I’m not going to write yours.

I have actually had a couple of biographies published, but they are fictionalised biographies of extremely famous and influential people (St Augustine and St Patrick) who lived exciting lives. Unless you’ve been kidnapped by pirates or blockaded by the fleet of a false emperor, while simultaneously changing the face of the Christian church, I’m afraid I’m not very interested in writing an account of your life.

You’ll be the next J K Rowling!

People say this to me, usually with a laugh, because I write children’s books, but I’m sure other authors get told “the next Stephen King” or “the next John Grisham” or some other staggeringly famous and successful writer. Now don’t get me wrong, it would be lovely to be rich, famous and successful, but you don’t really believe I’ll ever be J K Rowling, I don’t really believe it, and all you’re doing is making me feel bad that I’ll never attain such a ridiculously high level of success.

My main ambition as a writer is to be able to live on what I earn from writing, and not have to do other part-time jobs. How about letting me get there first, before thinking about a glittering international career? In fact, how about helping me get there by buying my books? 😉

And by the way, even if I should attain to those dizzy heights some day, I still wouldn’t be the next J K Rowling; I would be the first K C Murdarasi.

If you’re a reader and you have ever said any (or all) of these things to me, please don’t take offence; it’s better to be asked about writing than not, however many times I might have heard the question. If you’re a writer and this list strikes a chord with you, or if you entirely disagree, feel free to add your own most-hated questions in the comments section.


Sealskin by Su Bristow #review @SuBristow @OrendaBooks

Su Bristow’s Sealskin is a book I found completely enchanting. Although I’d had a copy for a while and was desperate to read it, especially as all the wonderful reviews started appearing, I wanted to save it to read when I was on holiday. The reason for this is that I was holidaying on the Isle of Lewis, a place where I could easily imagine Sealskin could be set. While on a walk which went passed Stornoway harbour, I was delighted to see some seals swimming leisurely by a fishing boat which was being unloaded. It made me think that this was the kind of sight seen daily by Donald and the other fisherman in the village.

The book starts with Donald watching seals or rather selkies transforming into beautiful women. The selkie myth is strong in Scottish (and other) folklore. The story goes that selkies can shed their seal pelts and change into human forms who are very attractive to real humans. If the human steals their skin, the selkie must stay in human form but if they find their skin, they will almost always choose to return to the sea. Donald is captivated by the transformed selkies and hides one of the sealskins. He commits a terrible act and spends the rest of the book trying to make amends. He takes home his Selkie, who his mother names Mairhi. I must admit to being rather uncomfortable with what happened being described as a mistake. However, the legend of the selkie talks of selkies being ‘forced’ to become wives so, as this is a retelling, it has to be read in this context.

This book was so beautifully written in such lyrical style. Here is just one example from near the beginning of the book: The boat was silvered all over with tiny frost-flowers sparkling in the moonlight. How evocative is that image? And this kind of beautiful poetic language appears throughout the book, creating a very mystical atmosphere.

I felt that Su Bristow has captured the atmosphere of the village perfectly. It’s a place where old rivalries run deep and where people are highly superstitious and suspicious of things they don’t understand and people who don’t fit in. As Donald’s mother Bridie puts it when she is talking about how people fear Mairhi “She frightens people even when she means no harm. Not the younger children. Nor the beasts. It’s only those whose heads are full of how things ought to be”.

Magic woven into the fabric of this captivating book and it certainly had me under its spell. Exceptional story telling and a book I will be recommending to everyone!

My thanks to Anne Cater and Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of this wonderful book. It was published on 15th February and you can order a copy online here: Sealskin 

From the back of the book

What happens when magic collides with reality? Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous …and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice.

With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.


Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written withpsychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Sealskin is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish and Nordic legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.

Spotlight on Sam Blake #author of #LittleBones and #giveaway @samblakebooks @bonnierzaffre


I’m very pleased to welcome Sam Blake to the blog today. Her novel Little Bones sounds like a terrific read though unfortunately I’ve not had time to read it yet- I do hope to get to it sometime. It will be published on Thursday 23rd February by Twenty7 (Bonnier Zaffre) and is already available as an e-book. You can order a copy online here. I’m also delighted to be able to offer two of my blog readers the chance to win a copy courtesy of the publishers. More details below. Now over to Sam.

First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire but I now live in Ireland, at the  bottom of the Wicklow mountains just outside Dublin – I’ve been here for marginally longer than I lived in the UK…I have two children, three cats and one very patient husband who is a retired member of the Irish Police Force (An Garda Siochana). I run several companies – a publishing consultancy (Inkwell) , a writing resources website www.writing.ie and a literary agency specialising in nonfiction (The Rights Bureau), I’m also a literary scout for several agents in London on the fiction side. I adore books!

What inspired you to start writing?

My husband went sailing across the Atlantic for 8 weeks and I had an idea for a book – it was November (a long time before my children arrived) so I filled the long dark evenings by scribbling away, and the bug bit!

Tell me about your journey to publication

It’s was a long one! My first book was truly terrible but I sent it everywhere and was rejected by everyone. By book 3 I got interest from a lovely editor who sent it off for several readers reports – which showed me I had more work to do, but also how valuable those reports are (something we now  specialise in at Inkwell). I knew I needed to learn more about the techniques of writing so I started running writing workshops facilitated by bestselling authors (purely to improve my own work!) – they became really successful and Inkwell and Writing.ie took off which kept me very busy and focusing on all the lovely aspiring writers I was working with.

One day I was having coffee with Simon Trewin (my now agent) in The Hospital Club in Covent Garden and I had a copy of one of Alex Barclay’s books with me – I mentioned that she’d been very influential on my writing. He was very surprised as I’d forgotten to tell him that I wrote (I sort of thought he knew). He wanted to know about my book, so I explained it was about a baby’s bones being found in the hem of a wedding dress and he wanted to see it straight away. Then one Thursday Simon had lunch with Mark Smith of Bonnier and Mark made an offer the next day.

In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?

Little Bones is the first in the Cat Connolly Dublin based detective thriller trilogy. When a baby’s bones are discovered in the hem of a wedding dress, Detective Garda Cathy Connolly is faced with a challenge that is personal as well as professional – a challenge that has explosive consequences.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I didn’t! It was called The Dressmaker for YEARS. Then The Dressmaker movie came out right before  it was due for release in Ireland and Simon (my agent) and I tried for many hours to come up with an a new title. We had lots of possibilities but nothing that was a perfect fit. Then Kate Parkin who is one of the directors at Bonnier had a stroke of genius and thought of Little Bones – I love it! It’s hilarious really that we didn’t think of it sooner as it’s such a perfect title!

How did you celebrate publication day?

I had two launches for the Irish edition of the Little Bones and it went straight into the charts at No 1, staying there for four weeks and in the top ten for another four – it was a bit like being hit by lightning! It’s fabulous to see the UK edition on the shelves now.

Do you have a work in progress just now?

Cat Connolly Book 2 In Deep Water is just due for publication in Ireland, and I’m way behind with, but working on book 3.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!

                                     The Drowning Child by [Barclay, Alex]     Let the Dead Speak by [Casey, Jane]

What are you reading just now? 

I’ve started about 4 books that I need to read fast because I’m interviewing the authors at events in the next month or so – I can’t reveal who or they will all kill me!

If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?

Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?

Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse – it’s the most  incredibly vivid and fabulous book that once read, you will never ever forget (I only need to say geraniums to anyone who has read it, and they smile)  I’m terribly bad on actors and actresses so I’ve no idea who should play who, I’d leave that to the professionals.

The Little White Horse by [Goudge, Elizabeth]

How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?

I’m on Twitter @samblakebooks, www.samblakebooks.com and on Facebook SamBlakeBooks, but in my other life I’m also @inkwellhq and @writing_ie

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind – I love strong women who are decision makers and aren’t afraid to fight for what they believe in.  And she had fabulous dresses.


For your chance to win one of the two copies the publishers are kindly providing, please click on the link below. You can enter up to midnight on Wednesday 22nd February (UK time) and the winner will be contacted within 24 hours.

Click here to enter the giveaway

#CoverReveal – Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland @under_blue_sky @bonnierzaffre


It’s not very often I do a cover reveal but I couldn’t say no when asked to be part of the reveal for Stephanie Butland’s forthcoming novel Lost for Words, which is due to be published by Bonnie Zaffre on 20th April. I loved both of Stephanie’s previous novels and am lucky enough to be currently reading an advance copy of this one. I find it very hard to resist books set in bookshops! You can pre-order your copy here. If you’d like to read my reviews of Stephanie’s previous novels, you can do that here: The Other Half of My Heart and Letters to My Husband

Now for the all important details about the book

Spiky, sardonic, and reclusive Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves the most tattooed on her skin. But there are secrets that Loveday will never share …

Fifteen years ago, in one unspeakable, violent moment, Loveday lost all she knew and loved. Now, she finds refuge in the enchanting little book emporium where she works. 

But something shifts for Loveday when a performance poet comes in to the shop, looking for something he lost. Between them, there’s a spark . . .

Not long after Nathan’s arrival, mysterious packages begin arriving for Loveday. Each one contains a seemingly unremarkable book. But each book stirs unsettling memories for her – some bittersweet, some too painful to bear.

It seems someone knows.

Someone is trying to send Loveday a message, and she can’t hide any longer. 

It’s time for Loveday to take charge of how her story unfolds. She must decide who around her she can truly trust and find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong. And if she does, she might just find her way home…

Stephanie Butland

Stephanie Butland lives in the North east of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. She is the author of How I Said Bah! To Cancer: A Guide to Thinking, Laughing, Living and Dancing Your Way Through and her second book Thrive: The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer, was published in September 2012.

Twitter: @under_blue_sky                 http://stephaniebutland.com/