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

Monday 31 December 2018

Ballater Bugle and general update

The Boxing Day walk, gentle but rather lovely.

Culter House, currently empty - so we all started to make plans for what we would do with it. At least the roof looks sound ...

The new Ballater Bugle and a short story, Jo, went out today - if you were expecting these and didn't receive them, or if you'd like to receive them and haven't signed up yet, send us an email at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk - before my computer packs up completely!

My blogging pattern went for six towards the end of the year - if you were enjoying the indie authors or the crime about Scotland series I do apologise. I had pretty much reached the end of my tether and was busy tying a knot to hang on to. I hope to do better in 2019!

The plans at present are for a new Murray book, the eleventh, by about Easter (though it requires a good deal of research so it might take a little longer), a new Orkneyinga murder in around the summer, and (though it seems so far away I have no idea if I'll manage it) a new Hippolyta by Christmas again. But who knows? At the moment I'm feeling pretty shattered, so I'm only starting tentatively on that schedule. I'll do my best.

I'm hoping to do a bit better on Instagram this coming year (posting twice over three months, which I've done so far, is not perhaps high profile, but as I don't have a smartphone I have to find a co-operative smartphone owner before I can post). If you haven't already, do take a look at my Pinterest boards. They're not updated frequently, but for each book you'll find some illustrations I've used for research or inspiration, and I have to say I enjoy putting them together. You can also follow me on Facebook. There is a plan for a new website soon (hm, maybe!) but I intend to sustain this blog here and just have a link to here from the website.

Well, there you are ... it almost looks like a scheme for a year! Then there's the garden, the allotment, the knitting (I'm trying to make a 'Viking' pattern jacket for a reading in February), the household, the paid work, the animals, the netball - in no particular order. Who knows, maybe for some of the year I'll even be half-organised?

Happy New Year!

Monday 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

To all blog readers, Facebook followers, newsletter subscribers, and indeed book readers - I hope you have a pleasantly uncontentious festival season!

Monday 17 December 2018

A Murderous Game - reduced!

Thinking of buying Hippolyta 4 (The Thankless Child) but plagued by a niggling feeling that you haven't read Hippolyta 3 yet? Now's your chance: A Murderous Game is reduced to $1.25 this week, only on amazon.com, though (for technical reasons, namely that .co.uk customers had your chance earlier in the year!). Offer ends Saturday, and The Thankless Child, now on preorder, goes lives on Friday! It almost looks planned.

Saturday 15 December 2018

And following ...

... as a gale force wind follows the leaves (that is, a bit chaotically and leaving madness in its wake) ...

... and squeaking in just before Christmas, as (sort of) promised ...

... it's out! Well, for pre-order, anyway.

The Thankless Child

The sun is shining, Ballater is full of wealthy visitors, and Mrs. Kynoch’s school for young ladies is flourishing  - until one pupil, the daughter of a slave-owner, vanishes. Has she eloped with a rich man, or is something more sinister afoot? Hippolyta Napier needs to know, before a vulnerable local man is accused of something he could not have done.

Not long to wait! It'll go live on Thursday. Hippolyta 4 - just when you thought the cats would get her!

Monday 10 December 2018

The Thankless Child - cover reveal!

A bright, cold Monday morning in December, and I invite you to go with me to Ballater in high summer ...

The sun is shining, Ballater is full of wealthy visitors, and Mrs. Kynoch’s school for young ladies is flourishing  - until one pupil, the daughter of a slave-owner, vanishes. Has she eloped with a rich man, or is something more sinister afoot? Hippolyta Napier needs to know, before a vulnerable local man is accused of something he could not have done.

Still hoping to have this out before Christmas! At least as an e-book - print will take a little longer.

I'm taking a sort of writing break till the New Year, though there are always things going on in my head (you'd never know it to look at me). Christmas and all that's involved takes priority for now!

Friday 30 November 2018

Not quite there, but here's what I've been reading ...

Hippolyta 4, The Thankless Child, is at last drafted and is just going through some edits - the cover, though, is ready and will be revealed with the usual trumpets, shawms and lyres within the next week.

Usually September is my busiest month of the year, for various reasons. This year the busyness began halfway through August and has not stopped yet! All the paid work that had mysteriously faded away at the beginning of the year resurfaced suddenly, there were family birthdays, breakdowns of key domestic machinery, a Christmas Fair to prepare new decorations for, a book signing, the Granite Noir launch, a new teaching term to handle, a few trips away for work and family ... it never seems to end!

Reading is squeezed in, though, at the end of the day when the brain's not up to much else, and here's a  selection that I think I haven't reviewed elsewhere.

Susanna Gregory The Westminster Poisoner. I don’t think I’ve read one of hers before but it was very good – fine Restoration setting, lively characters, and a very interesting note at the back placing it all in its historical context.
Ben Aaronovitch The Furthest Station Excellent as ever, and plenty to get your teeth into for a novella – almost forgot it wasn’t full length!
Bruce Beckham Murder in the Woods This was really quite quirky, oddly paced and observed, but in the end satisfying and well set in the Lakes.
Nikki Copleston The Shame of Innocence A good traditional police procedural with one or two nasty bits. The lead character is well drawn and there was plenty to speculate about not only in the cases themselves but also in the machinations of the police force. I’ll continue to look for others by this author.
David B. Lyons Midday Different and clever as we dig into the history of the four narrators to find the links between them, all in one Dublin morning. Definitely on the noir side.
Ed James Dyed in the Wool Another in the Scott Cullen series which I thoroughly enjoy. To be honest, Scott sometimes needs a slap or two to pull him out of his self-important misery, but we’ve all been there. He and his colleagues are definitely real people.
A.J. Mackenzie The Body in the Boat Another bit of historical here, back to late 18th century smuggling villages on the coast. Too many characters to cope with at first (not that I’m one to talk) but the detective and his female companion were original and in the end I enjoyed it very much – the setting, both historical and geographical, was excellent.
T.F. Muir An Eye for an Eye A more realistic St. Andrews than some I’ve read, and a good complex plot with memorable characters. On the noir side, definitely.
Janet O’Kane Too Soon a Death Lots of peril for the lead character in this second in O’Kane’s Borders series. Everyone seems to have a secret to hide and the plot is satisfying – a traditional with cosy bits, I’d say.
Margaret Skea By Sword and Storm Another installment in this historical series – not crime, this time, and though it’s set more in France than in Scotland I preferred it to the previous episode. She’s an excellent writer with fine attention to detail but the action still sweeps the plot along.
Theresa Talbot The Lost Children Though this was a subject that interests me, I’m afraid I didn’t finish this book. The lead character was not someone I liked at all, and there was no one else really that I could make much headway with. In fact I preferred the author’s travel bulletins on Radio Scotland. Hey ho – I might come back to it.
Oliver Tidy The Romney Marsh Mysteries – an omnibus of the first three (hope there are more) of these excellent traditional mysteries set in coastal Kent. I had already read the first one but it was still worth buying the boxed set. Great characters, good plots, lots of action in an interesting setting – and a bookshop with cake. I’d rather have crisps, but cake is not bad.
Steven Veerapen The Abbey Close Straying into Pat McIntosh’s territory, this is a mediaeval murder set in Paisley near Glasgow. It somehow lacked the charm of her books but was still interesting: it took me a while to warm to the main characters, but when I did I really enjoyed it. The plot worked well and it felt well placed in the historical context.
Lynda Wilcox An Appetite for Murder Another enjoyable outing for Verity Long, this time with added food. These are lovely relaxing books – plenty to engage the mind by way of plot, but somehow they are just a soothing, flowing read. I’m always delighted to see that there’s a new one out!
Paula Williams Murder Served Cold A new author for me and a good one – murder with a bit of romance and a decent plot.

Friday 9 November 2018

Been pretty busy lately and my blogging schedule has slipped like the pudding at the picnic (Slow Death by Quicksilver - bit sad to refer to one's own books!). But Tomb for an Eagle is going nicely, and thank you so much to all the kind people who have bought, read and indeed reviewed so far!

I'll be doing a signing at Blackwell's Bookshop in Aberdeen on 22nd. November at 5.30 - link here.

It would be lovely to see people there, even if you only come along to point and laugh!

Now back to that troublesome twentieth chapter of the next Hippolyta - The Thankless Child - which is supposed to be out before Christmas. This year. Or maybe not!

Thursday 18 October 2018

Tomb for an Eagle - launch day!

We're off! Available on Amazon as ebook and paperback, just going through the actions on Kobo and Smashwords if they are your preferred emporia. If you like it, please review it where you found it!

Now back to Hippolyta 4 - The Thankless Child. Who says time travel is impossible?

Saturday 6 October 2018

Viking Hiking

You know you’re in the right place when there are two Vikings waiting for the ferry.

Near the statue to Dr. John Rae, Ragnhild and Hlifolf (usually Mark) are loading bags and long iron rods on to the little MV Graemsay, ready to spend the day on the Orkney island of Hoy. Gathering on the quay at Stromness on the Orkney mainland are their customers who have signed up to go Viking Hiking for the day.

Mark wears a handwoven tunic with a tablet-weave belt (made by Ragnhild), while Ragnhild is in a long overdress with the traditional shouIder brooches and beads, with little woven bags on the belt at her waist.

We spend the thirty-minute ferry journey getting to know one another, while the boat skims between islands to our harbour, a small pier at the bottom of a hill.

Mark loads the gear on to one of the two local buses (one is driven by the post woman, and the other by Albert, who scoots about the island picking people up and dropping them off with no fixed route). We make sure we have pIenty of water and comfortable clothing. It’s a hot day, and the sea behind us glows deep blue and turquoise as if we are on a tropical island.

The vehicles disappear, leaving only the wind and birds for background noise, and we set off on a steep climb, at first by road, to reach the valley between Orkney’s two highest hills, Ward Hill at 479m and Cuilags at 433m. The road is scented with wild roses and meadowsweet, while tall yellow flag irises and cow parsley pool in the fields just beyond. Sheep graze, some already shedding their fleece in the hot weather.

As we walk at an easy pace, Ragnhild tells us more about flowers and plants we pass and their Viking medical uses, and when we take a break at the top of the pass she gives us a history of the Viking involvement in Orkney, from invasion to settlement to Denmark giving the islands back to Scotland as a queen’s dowry. It’s idyllic in the sun, the grass sprinkled with tiny flowers in yellow, white and purple, but we have a good distance to go yet.

Easier to spot as it catches the sunlight on its wind-dancing, white-bearded heads is the broad-leafed
 cottongrass, only found on Hoy in Orkney: the flatter ground around us glitters with its white strands. Larks rise from the heather, singing into the intense blue sky, and great auks, locally called bonxies, sweep slowly around the hillside on broad brown wings. Occasionally on an abandoned fence post there is a stonechat calling.

Ragnhild is knowledgeable about all things Orcadian, not just Viking times, and answers lots of questions from her hikers, though now and again she strides ahead (the path is easy to follow) and it seems almost as if she has wandered off to a time where she really is an Orcadian Norsewoman, blonde hair flying behind her, crossing the island to the bay and her longhouse home.

We pass Berriedale, Orkney’s oldest native woodland, birch and rowan – not much use to the Vikings for boat building, though. Orkney has very little timber and today the woodland is carefully preserved with firebreaks. A waterfall tumbles through it as it lies tucked into a fold of the hill. In the distance we can see the glittering sea on the other side of the island, cupped in the valley we are walking. Our goal is in sight.

After two or three hours we cross wetland on a narrow boardwalk, rejoin the road, and reach the end of the journey, the beautiful Rackwick Bay, where Mark, or Hlifolf, has the fire going on some stones and a huge horn of ale to welcome us. It’s very well received!

Then Ragnhild produces a long lump of beremeal dough - bere is an Orcadian form of barley, still much in use today and very tasty. She chops it into sections and we form our own bannocks, or flatbreads, and lay them to cook on a sandstone slab over the fire.

Mark has been making chicken stew - he’ll make a vegetarian one if requested. His Viking name, Hlifolf, is the name of the cook who was ordered to execute St. Magnus, the Viking earl of Orkney – the most famous cook in Viking history! As we wait for the meal to be ready Ragnhild tells us other tales from the sagas that have us laughing or awestruck, tales of battles and giants and mythical whirlpools. The stew is delicious, simple and very welcome, and the bannocks soak up the gravy.

The wind rises a little so after our meal we find a sheltered spot to try axe throwing, which is very popular, but requires some practice!

We try writing runes with charcoal on some slabs of stone, then Ragnhild shows us how to do tablet weaving, stretching the threads, turning them with squares of cardboard and running the weft between them, so that we can make belts like hers or Mark’s. Mark takes his turn to demonstrate how to make string from nettles, fearlessly stripping the stem and twisting the fibres against themselves to form a strong cord, then he gives us some tips on firelighting without matches, Viking-style.

Ragnhild takes over and plays two replica instruments for us, a sheepbone flute and a kind of Pan pipe based on a wooden instrument found at York’s Coppergate excavation. The sounds are pretty, delicate for warriors around a camp fire. Then, as she sings a particularly blood-thirsty Viking song, we join arms and dance in a long winding string, giggling. It’s a great way to end the Viking experience.

To save us the walk to the ferry, Albert the minibus driver collects us and takes us back by the road, where we’re lucky enough to stop by an RSPB station to watch sea eagle chicks and see the father bird soaring above. Further on Albert stops the bus again to point out a hen harrier in the valley below us. We reach the little pier in comfortable time for our ferry back to Stromness. We stand on the open deck, the wind in our hair, and in our imaginations, instead of the modern engines, there is the sound of ancient oars beating the water and a dragon on the prow.

Viking Hiking runs a few times in the summer, full days or half days, and is much to be recommended!