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

Thursday 21 February 2013

Slow progress

Fellowship with Demons (nee Kith and Kin) is the last of the Murray books that I completed in the 1990s: there's another half one, the next one, which I slightly fear coming back to in mid-stream, as it were. I don't know why, but my mind keeps bubbling away with plot ideas for the one after the one after the half-written one, while the in-between one is still very hazy.

The technique so far has been to reread the old (dusty) typescript (somewhere there's a rigid floppy or whatever they were for each book, but there's not a machine left in the house to read them), with the firm intention of making notes for improvements, corrections, etc. Then I set to to retype. I'm glad I invested a little of my very tiny startin salary on a touch typing course long ago - at my school one didn't learn such things as one was expected to have a secretary in one's workplace! At my second post I was strongly advised not to let slip that I had a typing qualification in case it was thought that I should be in the typing pool, not in a 'professional' post. Oh, happy days! Anyway, I'm glad of it now, as I edit as I go. The trouble is, I try to read it as if reading it for the first time, and then I think - 'But why doesnt' Blair say X here?' and I rewrite a whole passage to make Blair convincingly say X only to find two pages later that he does say / will say / has said X, but much more effectively, or that there's a pressing reason why he shouldn't say it at all. I correct lots of mistakes, but of course as I'm retyping I'm introducing brand new shiny mistakes. I've changed the name of Murray's cook three times (who noticed she has two different names? That's going to have to be fixed!). All this time I'm trying to think of a cover illustration that is (a) practical and (b) cheap, preferably free. Then I print the whole thing off and proofread, correct, and face the great moment of uploading on to Amazon. Actualy, it would make more sense to upload to Smashwords first, as they do an automated format check which is somewhere between useful and annoying (they're very picky about just how the copyright page has to look, for example). Each version needs an ISBN from my precious store - just bought a new batch.

I'm trying to set up Books 2 - 4 on CreateSpace before the summer, which is another faff. To be fair, Amazon does try to make it easy and I'm pretty pleased with Death in a Scarlet Gown in print (thanks as always to my patient and computer literate graphic designer), but it is a fiddle getting everything into templates and stop it looking like a text book.

None of this is, of course, marketing 'the product', something I'm really going to have to work on. This is not my field. This is so far from being my field that I feel like a slug in the Sahara - moreover, an Aberdonian slug in the Sahara (probably in the oil industry). For anyone who doesn't know, the common perception in England that the Scots are, shall we say, emotionally attached to a firmly closed wallet, is in Scotland itself directed at Aberdonians. I don't like to spend money. It's one of those irregular verbs: I am careful, you are stingy, he, she or it is as mean as a miser's mother. But apparently it pays to advertise ...

Thursday 14 February 2013


Just back from a few days in Broadstairs on the coast of Kent, where the sleet was horizontal but the hospitality was warm. I first met our hostess many years ago in London, when I moved there from St. Andrews, not long after the release of that wonderful film, Chariots of Fire.  You'll remember, perhaps, the opening sequence of the athletes training, running along a long, flat beach, with the caption 'Broadstairs, Kent'. So when she said that was where she lived, I said, 'Oh, yes, at the beginning of Chariots of Fire.' 'Oh, no!' she said, affronted. 'I don't know where it was but it wasn't Broadstairs!' 'No!' I said, with just as much affrontedness, 'it was St. Andrews!'. (I shan't trouble you with the additional story of an American acquaintance who, having tried to simulate the opening sequence one night by stripping to his underwear on West Sands, St. Andrews, and running boldly up and down the beach, then spent several chilly hours trying to find which dunes he had hidden his clothes behind ...).

Broadstairs is a lovely, quirky town, full of odd little houses of all ages tucked into awkward corners, including one or two that Charles Dickens didn't stay in. Another frequent visitor was Wilkie Collins, who was staying with Dickens when a glimpse of the lighthouse at night inspired the title of his novel The Woman in White. There are local tales of Viking invasions and smuggling, and the beach, which is hidden below the town, is lined with bathing huts and, in February, sulky turnstones and busy sanderlings running at the edges of the waves.

We took a quick train to Canterbury one afternoon but it was full of English Language students and French schoolchildren. The Cathedral is beautiful but expensive!

Nine hours back on the train through varying levels of snow - imagine doing that journey in a carriage, or worse, on top of a mail coach.


Thursday 7 February 2013


The beginning of February, snow on the ground, cats secreted in unexpected nooks (the bathroom is still of interest but since No. 2 Cat did not progress to the use of an angle-grinder we’re passing no comment at present), gradually being overwhelmed by the pile of unread books taking over various parts of the house. Wool is also encroaching and I have not yet unwound the scale model of the Himalayas I intended for a rug, mostly because No.1 Cat, the elderly and best-beloved, decided it offered support for his arthritic hops and adopted it for a while.

I’m in Chapter Fifteen of Fellowship with Demons, struggling a bit (partly just to find the time to type). No chance at the moment to pay a visit to Edinburgh and stretch my legs round the Meadows and the back of South Clerk Street where I need to be. I heard a writer on the wireless the other day (blowed if I can remember her name, sorry, but Radio 4), who said she had never walked much until she became a writer, then found that her brain worked best at 3 miles per hour. I’m with Virginia Wolff (not a thing I often say, but there are one or two points of her view where we might, had occasion offered, have nodded in sage agreement and taken another sip of gin and tonic) who liked to go for walks in winter dusk in the city, when people had lit their lamps but not yet drawn their curtains, revealing tantalising playlets of their lives to the passing world.

We travelled to Lockerbie and back last weekend. May I applaud the people of Dundee for their egalitarian abandonment of the use of car indicators? It’s a fine sign of a sense of community, everyone clearly just knowing what everyone else is doing and where they’re going. Clearly someone has realised that those little orange lights are a distraction, and a rather tasteless one at that – garish orange, very Seventies (though I suppose that’s retro now). The Dundee population has abandoned their use in favour of a rather sudden flashing of delightful cherry red brakelights when the driver in front makes an unexpected manoeuvre ... Peebles, though – now that’s a nice town. I hadn’t been there since Adam was a boy, but it is a busy, practical, clean, neat, attractive town. We had a decent lunch on our way down and another in a different plase on the way back, and there were more choices we wouldn’t mind trying another day. A walk by the river, clutching our hats to our heads, a stroll around a few pleasant independent shops, and on we went. The hills haven’t changed much since my childhood, though streams of water running off the moors had frozen across the road. Still, we’d left the North-East in snow so we were lucky. The sheep were bonny and clean with a fine staple that had me reaching for my knitting needles ...

Just outside Lockerbie, the stars were a wonder. In the city we so often can only pick out the Plough and bits of Orion, so it was a delight to stand and stare, tracing half-forgotten shapes. Those Greeks had a bit of imagination, though: I’m afraid Cassiopeia is a W, and that is that!