Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Wednesday 21 December 2011


Teaching is over for the term, marking has been done, the Christmas cake is half-marzipanned (I forgot to make double-quantities so had to go and get more ground almonds, ho hum), the snow has come and gone for now, Allotment Major has been put to bed for the winter, and most of the Christmas knitting and sewing is at least under control if not actually, er, finished, and - yippee! - Service of the Heir is up and running on Amazon Kindle!!! At last! It went up on Monday but takes a little while to appear, and then there's all the extra stuff of registering the new ISBN, making sure that people who have been anxiously awaiting it know it's there, thanking various helpers, and lying down in a darkened room for a few hours recovering.

OH! The waxwings have arrived!! Well, they've been around in the town for a month or so but for the first time in a couple of years they've appeared just now on a particular tree they like just outside my study window! They are so handsome. I hope there are still some berries for them: the gales have stripped these trees rather effectively.

Now, what else is to be done? Cracker fillings have been bought, so I need to find the snaps and make the crackers; the bird and associated meat products have to be collected; there's carol singing outside our church tomorrow (I hope it's not pouring) for the local office workers, who may have already suffered enough; the mince pies have to be made; the panto has to be gone to tonight (not the professional expensive one but the amateur one, it has to be); and the present wrapping has to be done. Then after Christmas there's the lecture writing, the catching up on some craft stuff, and starting to read the next Murray of Letho novel. It has the working title of An Unkenspeckle Woman but I suspect that won't survive - we'll see.

Happy Christmas, thank you to all who have bought books from me this year and to those persuasive few, you know who you are, who help me sell them. And a New Year that is all you would wish!


Sunday 13 November 2011


Feeling a bit on the gloomy side today. Outside it is damp and dark (dreich - there's no good English equivalent, really); I'm feeling a bit miserable about the politics going on on the Allotment Minor site; I've two charity bids to get in by next Friday with the usual difficulty of herding committee members together; I still haven't written Tuesday's lecture; I just seem to have too many juggling balls in the air at the moment and I haven't the energy to run and catch any that stray.

On the plus side (there has to be one somewhere) I finally finished typing up Service of the Heir yesterday morning. It still needs to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb, but it's a milestone. The trouble is I'd rather read the next one than go back over this one again! The other plus is that I told all my students on Monday to go and give blood if they could, and apparently they pretty much went in a body and did so. I went on Wednesday - remaining aloof as ever! Well, it's usually a bit of a stampede at the university, and I'd already made an appointment at the transfusion centre. Then Number One Cat's turn at the vet that evening for his boosters: he'd obviously decided he'd show Number Two Cat how to behave and was very good indeed. He's losing a bit of weight in his old age - time was the vet would back off into a corner as he emerged from his carrying box!

On the realistic side (there are three sides to everything, I find - even pieces of paper) I have to remember that I had pizza on Friday night and a wrap today and gluten does give me fits of depression (or serious indigestion). I think I'm glutenised. Glutenated? Hyperglutenated? Bah!

Sunday 6 November 2011

Mud and grouting

It's a wonder I can type this evening - an afternoon allotmenting, including a blitz job with my fellow plotters on our shared polytunnel, then home to grout the new tiles in the bathroom. Fingers fizzing with nettle stings. The last of the runner beans picked, and the pak choi, as there was a frost last night. The plot looks strangely unfamiliar without the bean canes up.

I had to cancel a lecture last week as there was already a class in that room. My class, assembling themselves in the foyer of the building, offered to follow me up the stairs and take on the other class in unarmed combat, but I suggested they go and read quietly somewhere instead. I went to see my secretary who accused me of being fussy about rooms again - I wasn't aware we were reduced to room sharing, but there we are! Anyway, she booked me into another room, which turned out, as far as I can see, to be a converted corridor. Some of my students were so far away I offered to get them binoculars. The whiteboard was tiny and fixed behind the fixed desk, so the lower third was completely invisible, the middle third was invisible if I was behind the desk, and I couldn't reach the top third. There was, of course, a new box of chalk. I offered to have a World Tour teeshirt printed for the class with a list of all the locations we've been in so far, then thought (a) they might not all fit and (b) there might still be more!

The coffee for the 9am tutorial is going down well. Not that they're actually drinking it, but they seem to appreciate the harmless eccentricity of my bringing it.

Two more lovely evenings working on Service - itching now to get on with the next one, but that's a treat that's going to have to wait! And it's almost certainly much worse than I remember ...

Sunday 23 October 2011

The mixture as before

Having reread last week's post, I'm wondering if I accidentally pressed Repeat by mistake. Apart from the exam, this week has been much the same again - teaching, ceilidh, allotment, stiff back by Sunday! If you add in a 'flu jab and an appointment with the dental hygienist, you have the peaks of my week's excitement.

Well, not entirely - I did manage to spend a whole evening editing Service of the Heir, including my favourite bit involving Murray and an open drain on a foggy night. That cheered me up slightly, and made up for waking early one morning mumbling, 'But Henry was at the funeral! So he couldn't have ... oh, bother ...'

One classroom that had no black or whiteboard last week has a whiteboard this week - with a projector pointing away from it, and a lovely big box of new chalk. Very useful on a whiteboard. I've liberated most of the chalk and intend tomorrow to transfer it to a lecture room where there's an ancient blackboard but only ever a few fragments of chalk. The boardless classroom is my favourite venue, but not that of my students as that particular tutorial is at 9am. They were so dozy on Tuesday I'm planning to take them coffee and biscuits this week, so they have no excuse.

Someone has commented that Number One Cat deserves to be spoiled as he's had his nose put out of joint by the arrival (not planned) of Number Two Cat. This is absolutely true. The tuna can is being opened even as we speak. Number One Cat is delighted he has a loyal supporter.

Now to go and put out the wheelie bin. Oh, the glamour of a writer's life!

Sunday 16 October 2011

The perpetual distractions of academia

I'm late with this this week. I ran my first exam, which did not go as well as I would have liked for various logistical reasons but the good thing was that for once none of them was my fault! However, heaving round exam papers and all the concomitent office equipment nearly flattened me - I think I've lost half a stone since this course started!

Friday's exercise was a very good ceilidh, with lots of terrific dances and enough good or experienced dancers to make it feel like a dance rather than a riot. Then yesterday I trekked down to Allotment Major and did some serious pre-winter weeding - and this morning I can barely move.

I'm not sure I've managed any of Service of the Heir this week. I like to think there was a point somewhere in the middle of the week - maybe before Wednesday? - when I did some, but I wouldn't want to swear to it.

Number Two Cat, who lost his third collar last week, lost his fourth this week but recovered the second, which he has now also lost. In addition, he appears to have attacked something with his nose. This does not enhance his good looks, but has given Number One Cat a laugh. Between them recently they finally destroyed the catflap, and Number One Cat does not like the new one. He sits and bats it back and forth noisily, and if we manage to ignore that - and the fixed stare - he starts miaowing loudly. We're thinking of building him some steps outside to facilitate his ingress. Is it possible that he's very slightly spoilt?

Saturday 8 October 2011

The rain it raineth every day ...

October has arrived with chill weather which today turned wet. This was great, as I had set aside this afternoon to go to Allotment Major and fix the main path, and possibly weed the side paths before winter. It was not a dry job.

Good progress with Service of the Heir this week - lots of ideas, fair amount of typing done, not too much staring out of the window and contemplating mugs. I really felt I was getting somewhere and now that it is 75% typed it might indeed be out by Christmas as promised. I do prefer to keep promises and rarely make them, just in case, so I'm on tenterhooks.

Lovely Canadian houseguest this week, whom we hadn't seen for a couple of years - she's off moving round other friends, now, too. She tells great tales of her life in the North West Territories and is in the process of getting her first book out, an academic text. A real delight to see her again.

Blackberries picked, crumble made, blackberries picked and eaten for lunch, more blackberries picked. What greater joy could there be? and what greater combination than blackberries and apples? I love autumn!

Friday 30 September 2011

The Pied Piper strikes again

The one classroom I hadn't got to, partly because it wasn't on the original schedule, turned out to be masquerading as a lecture theatre but actually being a computing lab. Very high tech, meaning that you can't write on the white board, you have to switch it on and then find out how they've wired it before you can do anything with it. The class decided, for purposes of mutual security, I assume, to follow me round the building as I tried to solve the problem, watching in reverent silence as I negotiated with the receptionist for telephone time and rang my departmental secretary. Not my best lecture so far.

Today's distraction has been trying to take Number Two Cat to the vet for his check-up, only to find fifteen minutes before the appointment that the cat carrier was nowhere to be found, and Number Two Cat himself was watching me with detached interest from the roof of a distant shed.

Wild ceilidhing last night with inexperienced new postgraduates: hilarious but very dangerous. Amazingly, no blood had been shed before we left!

Honestly, I am trying to finish the book! If it's any consolation, I still haven't picked enough blackberries for either a pie or wine, either ...

Saturday 24 September 2011

Autumn, progressing as slowly as the book ...

The leaves outside are still faded green, but on the other hand the geese flying down to the Solway Firth are becoming more numerous. The days are starting dark and damp but finishing in a blaze of glory. I spent yesterday guiding three small children round the delightful Drum Castle and its woodland, and blackberrying - though those blackberries are no longer fit for human consumption, having been used more as warpaint than foodstuff. Who says Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' is historically inaccurate?! But I hope to find something for a pie tomorrow! (and three small children would just fit nicely...)

The teaching and its related administrative and promotional and pastoral work have been overwhelming this week and will probably be so next week, too, but I'm striving to keep up at least 15 minutes editing and typing a day just to remind myself what is happening and keep a flow of thought going. I'm not a natural teacher - just fallen into this, really - but I do try my best. I took a long walk around the university the other day to find all the rooms I'm supposed to be teaching in, everything from a seventies slum to a mediaeval tower to a dodgy science basement with radiation warning signs on the doors. I think I should make sure my students have good maps! Oh, well, all part of life's rich soup ...

Friday 16 September 2011

Autumn approaches

The tree outside my study window is fading fast, and some of the horse chestnuts around are already turning copper and red. The evenings are definitely chillier and darker - I love it! Every change of season brings such delights.

Among them is not CreateSpace. I spent most of yesterday, or it felt like it, carefully formatting Death in a Scarlet Gown for the inside PDF, but lost all hope when I saw the complex instructions for the cover PDF. I'll conquer it soon, I feel almost sure. Then I unwisely clicked on a button which Amazon told me would tell me what to do to avoid paying 30% tax to America's remarkable IRS, and the small furry animals that inhabit my brain went into a bit of a tizzy.

Never mind: I carried on typing and editing Service of the Heir - over halfway now! - and remembered to book the chimney sweep who usually comes in August but I was on holiday and forgot. Quite how he will get into the house is another matter - we emptied our storage facility on Sunday and brought everything home, which may have been a mistake. Let's just say that running from one end of the house to the other would be less of a flat race, and more of a steeplechase. Service of the Heir is a great way to turn my back on the mess and pretend that I, too, have servants who can be trusted to tidy it all away ...

Friday 9 September 2011

Another week of not being able to write!

This week has been devoted to the paperwork for one of the courses I'm teaching - why are there always more urgent things to do than writing? In the meantime I fret about the plot of next book, principally because I can't actually look at it!

I dug up the Pink Fir Apples yesterday evening and they look great - one of them twisted itself round the root of a broad bean and is the very shape of a small bird perched on a stone. Where's That's Life when you need it? It was a beautiful evening: the swallows seem to have departed, having been extraordinarily noisy on the telegraph wires last week, but it was calm and mild and sunny up to sunset. In a neighbouring field are two little (relatively) Highland calves, which look as if they're wearing woolly trousers.

I also managed, in the briefly dry weather, to harvest a load of herbs from the garden and dry them in the oven. One hour at the lowest gas mark and they were perfect - and the house smelled fantastic! Much better than fresh coffee.

Still can't find the maps ...

Friday 2 September 2011

A search for maps

After a week of emergency knitting (that is, when you identify a pattern to knit for your sister-in-law's special birthday, have it clearly in  mind for months, but unaccountably neglect to buy wool and start knitting till the last possible minute), I have time to think about Murray again. In the mean time, while knitting on buses and doing the essential walking about the town, I've been spotting characters and making notes, thinking of phrases to use, sorting out plot problems in my head and then trying to find a notebook to write them into before the ideas float away.

The weather has been variable and a bit autumnal: more veg back from Allotment Major and leeks planted in Allotment Minor - I wonder how they'll do? The soil is rather dusty and I've used half a bag of growbag compost to try to help them out. The rosehip wine is now safely in the demijohn as it should be. I've spent the morning baking, much to the distress of Number One Cat, who likes me to settle in the study in the mornings so that he can keep an eye on me in comfort from the sofa bed. Number Two Cat has lost his rather nifty brown collar with pink spots, and now has an urban chic one instead - don't know where he puts them. When we lived in Sussex, the local cats used to suspend each other off gutters to rip off each other's collars - clearly a venerable tradition, and we had to replace six collars in four months (just for one cat).

I've carefully put away all my old maps of Georgian Edinburgh. I wonder where?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Should be writing ...

I should be writing. I should be editing the church magazine. I should definitely be doing housework. I should be bottling a batch of beer (I shouldn't be moving the rosehip wine to a demijohn which I accidentally did a week early this  morning). I should be reviewing books for Good Reads. I should be writing my course. Why am I knitting a new sock?

I went to Allotment Major after over a fortnight last Thursday, and regretted not bringing a machete to hack my way through the weeds. It's been warm and wet up here. However, three bags of veg home, not including the neep I gave one of my neighbours and the onions I tied to the fence to dry. We've eaten the cauliflower and the peas and the gooseberries, and frozen the radishes (good in stirfries later if you blanch and freeze them), and the courgettes are prepared for this evening. The mangetout are on the menu for tomorrow night. We may never get through the potatoes. There was a lettuce lying on the kitchen bench being rather muddy - they keep better that way, with the earth still on, but I prefer them to be on something rather than the bench, so I carefully removed it to an appropriate plate and carefully cleaned the bench. Number Two Cat then decided to jump up to the sink and then walk along the bench, but he didn't realise that the edge of the plate was over the edge of the bench and stood on it. Cat and lettuce each described beautiful double somersaults before falling on the floor. Cat embarrassed: earth once again everywhere.

There are over two hundred tomatoes growing in the kitchen. I hope they ripen, or we'll be supplying the neighbourhood with green tomato chutney.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Increased Availability

I'm hoping that Death in a Scarlet Gown and Knowledge of Sins Past will be available in the next few hours on Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/), which will open the books to a few more formats for anyone allergic to Amazon! This all takes ages when I should be editing Service of the Heir, which is sitting on my desk in its ancient folder trying to fight its way out from under a heap of text books for the academic course I'm writing. I shall get it done, I shall!

I've realised I'll have to go back and refamiliarise myself with Edinburgh - not exactly a bad thing! but it's a while since I've lived there. I think you really have to walk a place to get the feel of it, up dodgy looking lanes, examining brickwork, touching railings and render, sitting on walls and watching people go by, or blinking against the rain looking up at the buildings you don't notice with your head down or your eyes on the traffic. Mind you, if you get too carried away you start walking out in front of the traffic, assuming the horses will stop! It's not always safe doing historical research!

Sunday 14 August 2011

And now, the recovery period ...

Back again. Thought we'd lost a coat on the train, accidentally found it this afternoon in the park on the way back from inspecting Allotment Minor. Stuffed it in the bag with the lettuce given by my allotment neighbour and the two pounds of rosehips foraged for wine, and came home to make the wine.

I love reading people's teeshirts - 'If found, please return to the pub' or 'The angels have the blue box' do me nicely. I hope no one minds me staring, but really, if they go about with something written across them, what do they expect? I myself wear one reading 'Eco-Worrier' on occasion, and used to have one reading 'Behind every successful woman is a rather intelligent cat'. However, I am heartily bored with reading the words 'Abercrombie', 'Fitch' and 'Bench'. Why pay money to advertise someone?

I did see a man a few months ago wearing a teeshirt reading 'Apple Crumble and Fudge'. It made me very happy.

Monday 1 August 2011

Running to Catch Up

The laundry is in the machine, so can't be packed, but at least the massive supply of cat food has been bought so that our lovely neighbour can fend off our savage moggies while we're away, the allotments have had the vegetables looked over, the garden has been hacked back, and the train times have been rechecked. There'll be no internet for a little while! It's family visiting time again.

Good weekend baking for a sale which made a couple of hundred quid for our church, then N and D, the deviously persuasive friends who talked me into this lark, arrived for the night. Much talking, eating and drinking occurred, and they departed with our first cauliflower of the season and a bar of homemade soap. N wants cinnamon soap next time - I'll have to think about how to introduce the scent the right way ... A wretched magpie family are chasing the smaller birds from the tree outside my window - love birds, not so hot on magpies, noisy, bullying, vain and greedy.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Mugs on windowsill

Contemplating mugs on windowsill. Slow thought day. Mugs are all cracked or chipped so retired from drink use and now holding porcelain painting pens (a large mug with fruit on it, present years ago from the school friend who walked into the lamppost), colouring pencils (RAF Cosford's Aerospace Museum), paper clips (Northern Line with Mornington Crescent reopened), scissors (Lifeboats mug), pencils (mug with my name on from many years ago), crochet hooks, rugger (for making rag rugs, nothing to do with rugby football), jewellery pliers, lucet, knitting loom hooks and other odd tools (Fair Trade mug), tubes of glitter (mug from Victoria Cafe, St. Andrews), cable knitting needles and other odd knitting needes (some odd tin to do with Italian cakes). To list the other contents of the windowsill would be to imply that my study is untidy, though actually this is fairly ordered, for once ...

Monday 25 July 2011

Busy Weekend

I had a family-free weekend so blasted on with the next book - it's called Service of the Heir, and with a following wind (and it was certainly a windy weekend) it should be out, as announced on Good Reads, by Christmas this year. Family have now returned to find I've been living on mangetout and lettuce from the allotment, completely ignoring all rooms but the study! No more peace - back to cooking and cleaning and preparing lecture courses ...

Friday 22 July 2011

Bit more of a profile (following on from Profile)

Bad sign - once I start it's hard to stop!
Living in a city is in some ways greender than living in the country round here. We have good public transport and the insulation of living in a terrace. The greenness sort of grew up around a kind of experimental archaeology, a desire to have a go at doing things as they used to be done, though I was also brought up by parents who'd been through the war and sorted their rubbish, grew our own vegetables, mended everything and walked where possible. Anyway, I've made my own candles and soap, turned sheets, learned to spin and weave (and incidentally to ride, fence and shoot). I think I have the vague idea that if the balloon goes up I'd like to be the one making soup over an open fire rather than the one clutching a worthless Blackberry and wondering why the street lights have gone out. I was of course a Girl Guide (in quite a practical unit - cake-icing one week and army assault courses the next). However, put me in front of a computer and I'm likely to ask how you light it (or warp it up, or cook it ...).
I started writing when I first realised that someone wrote those magical book things I was reading, and when I read my first Agatha Christie, on Boxing Day when I was about eleven, I realised I wanted to write crime novels. Long-suffering friends were forced to read these, quite often while walking to school (resulting in one friend walking into a lamp post). I started writing Murray's novels around 1995 but tried to give up around 2002 in the face of the unified apathy of the publishing industry. The final straw was a book called Mortification which was a series of articles by authors about the times they had fallen on their faces, and was less than encouraging. However, this seems to be my addiction, and I've been writing all kinds of things since, giving Murray a break, but ploughing on quietly on my own. Hence the reluctance to talk now - I haven't done it for so long!

Sunday 10 July 2011

Hitting America

Slightly surprised to discover I've sold six books in North America! One kind review from there, too, which is good. It's been a busy few days - one batch of elderflower wine has decided to recarpet the landing, the long-haired cat has needed pruning, the allotments are producing lettuce and rocket in vast and nearly inedible quantities (I looked like a vegetable stall on the bus the other night), and we've been at a wedding in torrential rain, where one bridesmaid keeled over during the service, narrowly avoiding hitting her head on a pew. Weddings in Scotland were a good deal simpler in Murray's day - even the date wasn't absolutely fixed till about a week before, then all you had to do was pin down a minister, get in a bit of food, gather a couple of friends and push back the drawing room furniture - the minister came to do the job in your house and attendance was generally very low. Yesterday there must have been a couple of hundred guests and the date has been fixed for about a year! Still, a good time had by all - and still the rain falleth ...

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Maybe linked ...

I've just managed to change the entry for Knowledge of Sins Past to include this blog address, and I've put up new format covers for both the books - I thought, since they were ebooks, I could get away with a nice uncluttered illustration, but feedback says no! Make them look like real books!

Thank you so much to the lovely reviewers who have taken the time to write about my books - and in such detail. I'm sure these will be very helpful to other readers, too.

Not such a lovely day today, but after a burst of editing I have to go and make some soap - friends' birthdays are coming up and I'm still trying to perfect my methods. At least I don't have to run stale urine through straw and add lard, or whatever the method was when Murray was around! I think I'm conflating two things there - must review my sources ...

Saturday 2 July 2011

Sunny Saturday

It's a lovely day, which means I should probably be heading out to Allotment Minor later. I transferred some wine to a demijohn this morning and then set to to edit Service of the Heir, the third book in the Murray of Letho series. Shocked to realise I wrote it fifteen  years ago! It certainly needs some work, which isn't surprising. Back then I was living in Edinburgh and as I walked about the town it was as if I was seeing it interwoven with the ghosts of buildings, streets and people that would have been there in Murray's time, walking with him to Greyfriars Kirk through Brown and Adam Squares (long gone, where Chambers Street is now). There are so many good text books on Georgian Edinburgh - Youngson's The Making of Classical Edinburgh and the more recent Edinburgh: The Golden Age, by Mary Cosh, are two of the best. Then C.K. Sharpe, Chambers and Cockburn were writing diaries and accounts at the time. But original documents are invaluable, and for those the best places are Edinburgh City Archives, the National Library, and of course the National Archives of Scotland. I quite miss doing all that lovely research!

Thursday 30 June 2011

First Review

Hello! Thank you so much to the kind person who reviewed Death in a Scarlet Gown on Amazon - that was lovely! I've been dancing round the room, which is probably unwise as I spent yesterday digging a new allotment and the evening at a ceilidh - still, probably good to get the muscles moving again!

And if I've done this right (although who knows?) the link below will take you to the Murray of Letho books on Amazon.

Happy days,


Wednesday 29 June 2011

First ever blog

There are probably loads called that! Hello, I'm Lexie Conyngham, and I'm the author of the Murray of Letho series of detective novels set in Georgian Scotland. Now, that's not exactly a claim to fame, but a couple of weeks ago my close friends N&D, who are much more technologically minded than I, suggested that I deal with the heap of dusty manuscripts littering my study and actually publish them as ebooks. Much to my surprise I did it, and now there are the first two, Death in a Scarlet Gown and Knowledge of Sins Past, actually available!

Now my next task is to do a  major editing job on the next Murray book, Service of the Heir, which moves the action to Edinburgh. Most of the series will be set in Edinburgh and Fife: I've lived and worked in both with great delight. I'm currently a bit further north, however, with a family, two cats, two allotments and actual real work to attend to, so I'd better leave this for now and do what needs to be done on a sunny day!