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

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Very best wishes of the season

To all readers, blogs or books, fellow writers, fellow crafters, fellow historians, fellow cooks, fellow zoo keepers and wildlife lovers, and fellow gardeners, wherever you may be, a very merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year!

Friday, 11 December 2015

A walk into when?


I went to pick up a parcel this morning from the parcel depot, and then walked on to Sainsbury’s which is nearby to top up on cough mixture (oh, the glamorous life of the writer!). There is a choice of routes between the Post Office and the supermarket: you can sweep round on the pavement by the road, or you can walk over a rather muddy grassy hill. Today it was not muddy, because it was frozen, and when I can I prefer to take this little shortcut.

 

It is an ordinary path, or not even a path but a desire line, trodden by many feet – hence the mud. To your left is the sweep of the busy road, to your right is an old wall – not older than Victorian, I suspect, and possibly a good deal younger – with, beyond, some trees and a few blocks of low-level private flats, probably built around the 1980s. Ahead there is a bus shelter, and a pedestrian crossing, and further ahead a roundabout. Raise your eyes and you can see a couple of Victorian factories, a few church spires, the creamy grey dawn of a frosty morning in north east Scotland, splashed with yellow sunlight. It’s nothing special. I think a hundred years ago it was part of a large cattle market, and a hundred years before that it was farmland on the edge of pleasure grounds for a private estate.

 

Yet there is something about that track that calls to me, pulls my feet towards it. When I walk up that gentle rise, it feels more momentous than it looks. I navigate by the top of the traffic lights and I feel I’m noting waymarkers that have been there for generations. I follow the steady curve of the granite wall, under the branches of trees probably younger than me, and sense there has been shelter there under those branches for centuries. I stride out and I’m in the tracks of thousands before me, before the road, before the traffic lights, before the cattle market and the pleasure grounds, walking into other grey and yellow dawns, crunching the crystals of other frosts, the sea before them and the country behind, going who knows where?

Monday, 30 November 2015

Out of a Dark Reflection - out now!









The most curious sensation of being watched …

Letho, Fife, 1816: Murray and his guests all have good reasons for not attending Edinburgh’s winter season, even down to the new maid. But then an old woman is found dead in the village, and murmurings of witchcraft are abroad. Suddenly everyone seems to have secrets – but who would kill to keep theirs?

The eighth Murray of Letho book is out now - and it's only 99p on Kindle for the month of December. 

Paperback available soon (having a bit of an issue with uploading files and I don't know if it's my laptop, my broadband or Amazon, but no doubt it will sort itself out before, er, Christmas?).

Thanks again to Kath and N for their readings, and to Helen Braid at www.ellieallatsea.com for her lovely creepy cover!

If you want to see the presbytery minutes which Murray and Blair read in the course of this book (the series is held in St. Andrews University Library), you'll find they're missing - presumably Mr. Helliwell never got around to taking them back to Cupar.

If, however, you want a little printed background reading on this topic (pay attention at the back, please), then try Witches of Fife, by Stuart Macdonald, or An Abundance of Witches, by Peter Maxwell-Stuart. Otherwise just read the book - I hope you enjoy it! (now the underlining's gone bananas - who understands technology?).

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Starlings


Not the most brilliant photo in the world, but not too bad for a point-and-press at dusk with the bus coming!

I was waiting in the dregs of snow at a bus stop when a little murmuration of starlings, only 120 or so, met in the tree on the right. They paused, formulating their plans, then burst out in a bubble, bouncing around the sky. Then they established their sequence: they spread themselves out to the left, across the road beside me, losing a few tens of them as they went. Then the great sausage shape sprang back into a ball and gathered up some of the strays like blutac quickly rolle around a student's bedroom wall.

The building on the left has an ivy covered wall at the back: the ball of starlings hurled itself towards the ivy again and again, scraping off a few more starlings on each circuit to rest in the ivy, until the whole ball had vanished into the wall. They waited there, and the rest of the strays gradually joined them. There was a pause for breath, then out they shot and started all over again, spreading out, rolling up, and gradually roosting.

Book launch on Tuesday! I think I'm ready!

Friday, 13 November 2015

International Drabble Week - my final contribution

Here's one some may have seen before:


If Only

 

If only my best mate Dennis hadn’t given me a bad tip on the markets, it wouldn’t have happened.

If I hadn’t been broke, I’d have had a phone, a car. A jacket without a dodgy zip.

If it hadn’t been windy, we wouldn’t have gone kite-flying. Obviously.

If Dennis hadn’t had a bigger kite than me, he wouldn’t have gone showing off.

If he hadn’t been showing off, he wouldn’t have tripped on that loose rock and bust his leg.

If he hadn’t bust his leg, I wouldn’t have gone back to his car to use his phone to call an ambulance.

If I hadn’t used his phone, I wouldn’t have seen the texts from my missus. Very intimate.

If I hadn’t seen the texts, I wouldn’t have gone back and done him in with that loose rock.

If I hadn’t thought I could get away with it, I wouldn’t have gone back to nick his car. Never there, was I?

If it hadn’t been windy, the door wouldn’t have slammed, on my jacket. Locked. Keys inside.

If it hadn’t been a dodgy zip, stuck closed, I’d have slipped it and gone.

Ah, there’s the siren. Ambulance? If only.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

International Drabble Week No.3

That's if you count yesterday's bonus story. Today's is inspired by a recent stay in hospital waiting for someone else to be treated, a brain-draining situation.

No Time at All


There is no time in hospital. There are time words: half an hour, ten days, tomorrow morning. But they mean nothing.

She looked at her watch. The consultant had said an hour – unless there were complications. Surely it was well over an hour? What time had she been wheeled away?

They sat either side of the bed space, silently anticipating its return. The floor gaped between them. Machines ticked meaningless seconds.

The nurse came.

‘She’s in recovery. It’s time to go down.’

She gazed groggily at them. The consultant smiled.

‘Everything went perfectly. And it took no time at all!’


Next drabble to follow on Friday, unless I feel inspired in between!

Monday, 9 November 2015

International Drabble Week - bonus drabble


Street Scene - a true story


I’m roused from my work by a tremendous clattering, rushing along the street outside. What on earth? I drop my pen and strain to see out of the window. A large golden dog lopes past, ears panicking, his leash trailing behind him – and attached to the leash a metal chair from a street cafĂ©. The chair chases him off along the road. A minute or so later there comes a middle-aged man, red-faced, panting, and disappears after the dog. There’s a long pause. Then the man returns, clutching the metal chair, his face thunderous. But what has happened the dog?

International Drabble Week est ici!

Here we are - the week we've been waiting for, the week which will be sprinkled with thousands of glittering little drabbles, each just one hundred words long! Well, I'm not saying my contributions will glitter, but I'll try: if you want to read some good ones, either go to Beyond 100 Drabbles by Jonathan Hill and Kath Middleton, or to the blog of this week's organiser, Michael Brookes, which is a fine place to go in its own right and will guide you to some excellent stories of all lengths.

Meanwhile here is my first contribution for the week (it was supposed to start with a dinky little illustration but the cat bite mentioned earlier has rather put paid to my fine motor skills for now).


What James Bond Leaves Behind

Glamour-boys, that’s them. I could have been one of them. Serve your country, see the world …

One remit’s placating local police. The murder squads are fine, but the traffic-cops! Small-minded paper-pushers. That tank in the streets of St. Petersburg did it for me. When Mr. Glamour-Boy motorbikes over the rooftops, it’s me up there with the trowel, making repairs.

The barrowloads of fruit and veg I’ve had to clean up! And fork out H.M.’s dineros for. I don’t like waste, so I’ve got clever with soups and salads.

So that’s who we are: MI6’s Refuse and Reparation Squad. Glamorous.

Friday, 6 November 2015

He looks so innocent ...






No.2 Cat's turn this week, off to the vet for his annual check up and jabs. No.2 Cat leads an unpredictable life so the catflap was locked last night, the result being that he was completely stir crazy by half eight this morning. We locked him in the bathroom while we negotiated the wheelchair-through-narrow-hallway manoeuvre to let those heading to work leave, but somehow he broke out (I suspect I need to check for a large hole broken through the door - note to self that No.2 Cat requires steel-lined doors) and shot across the road in front of a car. Not his usual streetwise self. He was recovered fairly fast, and the bleeding has mostly stopped (mine, that is). Stuffed into his cat carrier he set up a howling that had othe pedestrians removing their earphones to investigate the noise, and one poor girl nearl fell off her bike. Returned safely at last he delayed leaving the cat  carrier in order to show his feelings by vomiting copiously over the inside of it. No.3 Cat's turn to look superior.

Yesterday I began to look at The Necessary Tale, the stand-alone. I find I've written about half of it, and made detailed notes about the rest, which is comforting. I don't know when it will come out, though. Kind readers have received the draft of Out of a Dark Reflection and the cover artist has done her lovely work, so we'll see how things go. In the mean time I ought to do some real-life work!

Drabble Week next week: I'm hoping to post three drabbles in the course of the week, so drop in for a very quick read!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Finished - up to a point!

 
 
Well, the first draft of Out of a Dark Reflection is finished, after a blitz on Monday - spent a chunk of last week in an A&E unit with someone and someone's broken ankle, and found that I can't write in hospitals - very odd places, where time does funny things and even if you go in feeling bright and breezy within an hour your brain has been sucked out through your toes and you can barely read a book, let alone write one.
 
No.3 Cat has also been for his op this week: this causes some satisfaction to No.2 Cat who feels that anything that calms the kitten down for an hour or two has to be good. We believe that No.2 Cat has been neutered. We don't actually know, as no vet has been brave enough to investigate (and frankly, we don't blame them).
 
After some consideration I've decided to finish another of those stray standalones after this, then perhaps another Murray, then perhaps begin a new series (while still having half a dozen or so Murray books in my head). There's still some way to go on this one, though: I'm not sure I like the ending at all, so I'll have to re-read it and have a think before I send it to my kind readers - no point in making them suffer unnecessarily!
 
I have a few books on the go from the reading pile at the moment: John Bude's reprinted The Lake District Murder; Kate Charles' first Callie Anson, Evil Intent; Pamela Kelt's Equinox; Gunnar Staalesen's Yours Until Death, and some factual ones. Reviews will probably follow on Good Reads!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Glamis at the end of September

This beautiful sweet chestnut is in the grounds of Glamis Castle, a place associated in my mind with autumn, mists and hares. I was lucky enough to do a little work there once, high in one of the towers with a view across dew-soaked lawns. This time we were there as tourists and indeed customers of the very good cafe in the old kitchen. It can't have been too bad a kitchen to work in: there were high, bright windows and the great arch of a ceiling would have taken away some of the appalling heat of the huge fire and ovens.
The grounds are pretty, though the walks are far from strenuous. The walled Italian garden is apparently under development but is already a lovely, peaceful place. While I drooled in at the windows of the old lean-to greenhouses, heated by their brick walls and filled with tomatoes, figs and grapes, the summer's late insects refuelled nearby.


I've finished my September quota on the book and I'm on Chapter Twenty, where a much-loved character is in peril (the character is much loved by me, anyway). I've also done one drabble for November - must try a couple more! 100 words is far too short for someone as verbose as me.

I'm toying with the idea of beginning a different series, too, but perhaps more of that anon! I still have a few stand-alones half finished on the shelf which I would like to clear up: half-finished books are nearly as bad as half-finished knitting.

But the autumn sun shines, and outside there are blackberries to pick and breezes to dart through and geese to hear overhead, and a small white kitten, watched with disgust by a large ginger cat, to guard on his first few expeditions into the jungle. September draws to its lovely close, and we have, for the most part, survived it for another year.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Busy Autumn


Next year I think I'm going to hibernate for September. There are a couple of things that happen in September every year, and then once they're organised everyone conspires to run in and fill my diary for the rest of the month. I'm sure pixies are writing in it at night. It doesn't help, though it's delightful, that Allotment Major is brimming with broad beans, peas and courgettes and on Wednesday I even brought home a bag of tatties and onions, despite the voles' depredations earlier in the year. Sadly I had to take the veg to a funeral (we hid them in the church kitchen, I hasten to add) but the lovely lady we were commemorating was a keen gardener with a keen sense of mischief and I think she would have been chuckling!

What also doesn't help is having a kitten who has yet to work out the advantages of using a litter tray rather than any soft surface he comes across ...

The sun shone on Saturday and I ended up spending four hours in the local park painting fish. Well, if you see a sign on a fence saying 'Paint some Fish' it's hard to resist! The fish were cut out of plywood (brown trout, sea trout and salmon in several sizes) and there were gulls, too, which local children (and the occasional adult) were invited to paint to decorate a public art wall in the park. I hope to have a photo for a future blog, but it was very relaxing to lie on the grass in the sunshine and muck around with paints and pens. Local art student Ilena Low organised the whole thing and will be painting the big background picture, so I hope the weather holds for her!

Meanwhile I am on a diet of 2,000 words a day for the rest of the month to catch up on the current Murray of Letho book. This is unfortunate as Cecilia Peartree has brought out the latest Pitkirtly book, Closer to Death in a Garden, which has to be read, along with various other literary temptations, A Murder of Crows and The Devil's Recruit amongst them. Now, having thought that I should hibernate through next September, I'm now again wondering if I should just give up sleeping altogether?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Currently reading ...

I'm having difficulty at the moment tearing myself away from P.F. Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey books (I'm on the fourth, A Plague of Angels, just now) and Marsali Taylor's Shetland books (on the third, A Handful of Ash, now). It's a shame because apart from Job 1, which is urgent, Job 2, where there's a panic, Job 3, which is well-mannered and not urgent and therefore gets pushed to the back, inducing guilt, Job 4, drawing to a close which I hope will be tidy, Jobs 5 and 6 which lurk in the background, and Job 7, which keeps popping up with tedious regularity, I'm trying to write Chapters Twelve and Thirteen by the end of August which is (oh, help) four days away ...

Monday, 24 August 2015

International Drabble Week - coming soon!



 
Date: November 09, 2015 09:56AM
Venue: Facebook
Location: The United Kingdom 

The first Festival of Drabbles will start on November 9th and run until the 15th. It will be a week long celebration of drabbles and the art of drabble writing including some of the finest drabblists in the world.

If you’re new to drabbles then they are a form of flash fiction in which the story is told in exactly 100 words. They were introduced as a daily feature in the Indie Book Bargains newsletter (now Book Hippo) a few years ago. 
For a writer it’s a challenge of economy and editing to tell a story in so few words. It’s also an excellent way to play with new ideas and to explore areas that you normally wouldn’t. Readers, too, enjoy a bite-sized tale in those few quiet minutes in the day. They’ve also introduced new authors whose work might otherwise be missed. I find them pretty challenging (being a long-winded sort of person), but I hope to publish one here during the week.

It’s a form that deserves greater recognition and so Michael Brookes is organising this week of drabble related reading and activities, and his blog, The Cult of Me, will contribute to International Drabble Week and include a drabble competition.

By the way, when you wander over to Michael's blog, take a look at his novel Faust 2.0 - a great read!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Hedgehog

Found myself walking along the street this morning carrying a hedgehog in a washing up bowl.

I consider this to be an improvement on the previous outcome to a similar situation. This morning, quite early, my neighbour rang to say there was a hedgehog in her yard, and could I possibly come and remove it as her dog wouldn't stop barking at it. This was a two-person job as although her dog is small, she's determined, and the hedgehog was a well-developed specimen. I happily removed said hedgehog, provided cat food and shelter, and left it to get over the shock. The last time she found a hedgehog in her garden, she picked it up on a shovel and flung it over the wall into our garden - she assures me she checked first to see there was no one there, but I can't help feeling it was a bit harsh on the hedgehog, even if it fell into a leafy wilderness!

Cat and kitten have presumably not encountered the hedgehog: it would no doubt be an educational experience for the kitten, though who knows what monsters No.2 Cat has already found in our jungle?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

New distractions

No.3 Cat, who prefers (at present) to spend much of his time at unnatural angles, makes writing difficult - and almost everything else, too! After the much lamented death of No.1 Cat in May, just short of his nineteenth birthday, we felt there was a cat vacancy. No.2 Cat, it has to be said, does not feel the same way about the situation, particularly as No.3 Cat creeps up on him while he's eating - I think he's just trying to work out if he himself will ever be that enormous, or that ginger.

The house seemed very full of both people and animals yesterday, suddenly, and I ended up writing on the stairs for oh, a full ten minutes or so until someone came to tell me that No.3 Cat had mistaken the degus' dustbath for a litter tray, and the degus were telling him what they thought of it. Ho, hum, and out with the disinfectant again.

I'm on Chapter Eight but I'm supposed to finish Chapter Twelve by the end of this month. Unfortunately there are many things other than writing that I'm supposed to be doing, too, as usual, but I must get the writing done because September is always a complete whirlwind and I really want to get this one out for Christmas, so I can't fall behind!

I'm giving a talk this week on Regency Aberdeen: there will, at some point, be a time when Murray comes to Aberdeen (I think it's 1819) so it's as well to be prepared! At the moment I'm fretting very slightly as I have 28 slides on a Powerpoint and I have a niggling feeling that the equipment where the talk is taking place is Mac, while I'm PC. Fretting is about all I can do - I shall leave the technical side to someone more competent or the wheels will definitely fall off. A friend of mine once gave a talk in Sussex. He had a full carousel of slides, and opened his mouth to speak, when a woman in the front row moved to take her jacket off and the whole lot spilled on to the floor in complete disarray. I was halfway through a talk at the university with about 80 slides on Powerpoint a few years ago when the whole system shut down - it was half past eight at night, after all, and all the systems shut down then unless (crucially) you've remembered to override them for an evening talk. The trouble is, you have to wait for everything to cool down and then boot up again before you can restart! Why on earth do we bother?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Creation tapestries

 
Latest project completed, thank goodness - Creation tapestries for church. I only did the first one and sewed them all together. Beautiful designs by Alex Beattie for Ehrman.





Meanwhile the spooky autumn book, Out of a Dark Reflection, continues - I'm on Chapter Five, in fits and starts as I have a good deal of other work on at the moment, not to mention fighting the weeds on Allotment Major. Enjoyed the blog hop - thanks for all the lovely comments, and well done to those who won the giveaway! The books went your way yesterday - hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Blog hop for International Authors' Day!


I'm participating in a Blog Hop for International Author's Day, so look out below for comments on favourite authors, links to the organiser, and a giveaway!

In addition to the giveaway (which is real, papery books) here's a code for a free ebook on Smashwords - HU35S. The book is The Tender Herb: A Murder in Mughal India

http://www.b00kr3vi3ws.in/ ] Debdetta Dasgupta Sahay, the organiser - check out the blog!
 
We've been asked to write a bit about our favourite authors - but picking an absolute favourite is completely impossible, of course. I've cheated a little and picked two, one mainstream and one indie, both crime writers as that's my own chosen genre.

The mainstream author is Kate Atkinson. Yes, she's a literary author too, and I love her debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum and others, but I particularly relish her series featuring Jackson Brodie, starting with Case Histories. Set in various cities and in between, these books are full of wit both in the sense of humour and the sense of quick intelligence. The plots are intricately woven, festooned with tricks and surprises and things that turn round on themselves and meet you coming back, and instead of feeling stupid you simply laugh with delight at what it's done to you and your expectations (all right, so you might occasionally kick yourself. But Reggie is a man's name!). Though she doesn't give, to me at least, a strong sense of physical appearances (when the BBC serialised Case Histories I had none of my usual 'But that doesn't look like ...!'), her characters are immensely powerful and memorable. And her titles are great - Started Early, Took my Dog (and the dog is brilliant, too).

The indie author I've chosen is my current favourite, Cecilia Peartree. Cecilia (apparently a pen name) sets her cosy crime novels in a fictional village on the coast of Fife, in Scotland, which she populates with all kinds of difficult people who are just a stage worse, and funnier, than when you meet them in real life. The heroine is the dashing Amaryllis Peebles, retired from her career as a secret agent, who has palled up with Christopher, a dull archivist whose life was very quiet (apart from the challenges of his family) until Amaryllis chose to join his worthy but inactive local improvement group. Along with a small gang of pensioners, they tackle crime in their community with stoicism and vim. The characters develop from book to book, and the plots frequently make me laugh out loud. They're also pretty clearly labelled so you know which one to read first!

Hm, now I look at these I wonder if what I'm really interested in is humour, not crime!

Now,  the giveaway is for three signed paperback copies (tricky to sign e-books) of Death of an Officer's Lady, and I'm doing it via Goodreads giveaways. It's open to some surprising countries apart from the usual ones, so if you're interested take a look and see if you qualify - it's very annoying when you just happen to live in the wrong country, isn't it?

Linky code below:


Monday, 6 July 2015

Windhorse Burning now out!




‘I’m not mad, for a start, and I’m about as far from violent as you can get.’
When Toby's mother, Tibet activist Susan Hepplewhite, dies, he is determined to honour her memory. He finds her diaries and decides to have them translated into English. But his mother had a secret, and she was not the only one: Toby's decision will lead to obsession and murder.

Out now on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords (or at least in the next hour or so!). Shortly to follow as print-on-demand. 

Oh, and all the Murray of Letho books are now re-available (if there is such a word) on Kobo and Smashwords as well as Kindle.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The voles have gone too far!

The view from my window (in my nicer dreams).

It is rapidly becoming apparent that those charming voles on Allotment Major are making themselves far too much at home. Last year I met one, a delightful creature (though as the co-owner of degus my first instinct was to think 'Oh, no, it's got out!' and had to restrain myself from making a grab for it). Then I was clearing a neglected corner of the plot, where other people's litter snags in the wind, and found a cut off plastic cola bottle full of grass. I tipped out the grass for the compost and tossed the bottle to the rubbish pile, only to realise the grass was squeaking. In it was a vole nest, full of somewhat distressed and rather bald baby voles, making a tremendous noise for their size. I covered them and backed off rapidly, to allow the mother thus being summoned to come and deal with the situation. Later in the year I found they had worked their way along a line of sown sunflower seeds, neatly removed each seed from its husk, and left the husks. Well, I can live with that: the sunflowers were only intended to be ornamental. But now the blighters have taken my tatties! Of a whole bed of potatoes sown as is my wont with broad beans, there is one potato plant nervously breaking the surface, and even the beans are depleted. I wouldn't have minded so much but the self-seeded potatoes in the adjacent bed, interfering with my squashes, are untouched!

Scorching today on the plot, though now the rain has broken through a little. I'm trying to get my head round starting the next Murray of Letho book, Out of a Dark Reflection, and have indeed scribbled down the first hundred words or so, but it's set in late October - it's far too hot to think myself into late October!

The stand-alone book, Windhorse Burning, is still due out next week as an e-book (print to follow but the proof hasn't turned up yet).

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Death of an Officer's Lady - now out!






No trace: good. No way of following her.



Lt. George Murray needs his brother Charles’ help. One of his fellow officers has not heard from his wife in Edinburgh for several weeks, and he’s worried. George would go himself but Charles is only in Fife and besides, George is waiting in Belgium while a small man named Bonaparte, newly back from Elba, decides whether or not to leave Paris and fight.

But what Charles Murray finds out in Edinburgh will not be straightforward, and in the end both brothers’ lives will be in danger, in more ways than one.




Thanks to Helen at ellieallatsea for the lovely cover, a bit of a step-up from the old ones! The book is currently on Kindle, Amazon print on demand and Smashwords - one or two technical hitches with Kobo but we're on our way! Hope you enjoy it - and I'd love to read any reviews wherever you buy it!