Sunday, 5 October 2014

Building a Greek Temple from Toilet Roll Tubes

It's Sunday and Sunday is No-TV-Or-Computer-Day. We introduced this concept a few weeks ago to stop us burying our heads in tablets/smart phones/other things with bright screens that place us on tiny individual islands not speaking with each other.

The result is time outdoors or time hanging out crafting and reading or playing games. It's brilliant. I feel like I'm a kid again. My daughter gets to do the kid stuff I did. Make sand castles. Explore the library. Go wild with paint and sticky back plastic. Better still, I get to do that with her.

Today, however, was our Piece de Resistance: a Greek Temple built out of toilet roll tubes.

This is a project I've been wanting to do for months, inspired by the too-brilliant-for-words Hands on History book on the Ancient Greeks, which I picked up for a song at that fabulous den of Craftiness and Books, the Works.

I say "inspired" because it transpires that in craft, as in recipes, I can never quite bring myself to follow the step by step instructions to the letter. I go free style. And this is the result:

Building a Greek Temple out of Toilet Roll Tubes

Monday, 23 June 2014

Interview! Emmie Mears and The Masked Songbird

Gentle Readers,

Today brings an EXCLUSIVE interview with debut Harlequin author, the fantabulous Emmie Mears. Her brand new urban fantasy THE MASKED SONGBIRD is out on 1 July.

As an inhabitant of Scotland, I was particularly fascinated to find out that THE MASKED SONGBIRD is set on the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum - something that is on everyone's minds in Scotland right now!

So, without further ado - let's get down to and find out more about the novel!

An Interview with Emmie Mears:

The Masked Songbird is set on the eve of the Scottish Referendum on Independence: what captured your imagination about the vote?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Do you defend your right to imagine?

I have always given myself permission to imagine. I didn't realise that not everyone does, not until I was in my early twenties walking through the woods with a boy. 

Me: "I love woods, they remind me of Narnia - I always think that the trees might be dryads."
Him: "That's bullshit." 

I paraphrase, but it was something along those lines. He wasn't being mean. Indeed, we're still friends now. He was just impatient with what he perceived to be fanciful nonsense. He didn't understand the point in thinking about that stuff. I didn't understand why he wouldn't want to. 

Richard Johnson's Imagination series

To me, seeing a story behind every stick and stone, behind every face and sound, makes the world endlessly fascinating and engaging. I like finding patterns, links and themes. It makes life a game that I want to play. In Myers Briggs personality tests I come out as a "N". 

"Paying the most attention to impressions or the meaning and patterns of the information I get. I would rather learn by thinking a problem through than by hands-on experience. I’m interested in new things and what might be possible, so that I think more about the future than the past. I like to work with symbols or abstract theories, even if I don’t know how I will use them. I remember events more as an impression of what it was like than as actual facts or details of what happened."

Yep, that's me. I find it fascinating to watch my 6 year old daughter and her friends navigating the same sort of clashes.  At 6 they haven't yet learned the art of tolerance and compromise, or that it's okay for other people to think and believe different things from you.

"Muuuuumnmmm, she says that Fluffy [stuffed animal] isn't a real dog. She IS real. She IS!" 

"Mum, she fell out with me today because I said she was 6 and she said she WASN'T 6 because in fairyland she is 16 but Mum, I didn't know what age she was in fairyland so it's not fair that she fell out with me and she is 6 anyway." 

These are situations to which I, as a parent, am required to respond. A friend has a daughter who loves fairies. In fact she says she is a fairy. "Do you think it's okay for her to be so into fairies," she mused. "Should I put a stop to it?"

My answer: a resounding NO.

I was brought up by religious parents where faith and imagination were critical to their belief system. I had a Dad who told me fairytales which blended with my everyday experience. I had a plastic Virgin Mary straight from Lourdes with a screw off blue crown to pour out Holy Water. I also made shoes out of tin foil and left them on the window sill for fairies. Each year my Dad went to great trouble to show that Father Christmas had been. Presents would be hidden on the roof, behind the chimney and carrots would be chewed. Magic was entirely permissible.

My childhood was richer as consequence and so is my adulthood. I have never left those childish things behind me. I still look at trees and think of dryads.

This inclination to see a world within a world has been crucial to my working life. It has given me scope to create a vision for the programmes in which I work. It has helped me to see where dots can be joined to create something new, unique and exciting. It has helped me work out how to fire the imagination of others. 

So next time your mind wanders.... let it. 

If your children want to be fairies or goblems... let them. 

In a world beset by grand challenges imagination is our greatest weapon and our greatest defence. Indulge it, feed it and help it to become strong and powerful.  

And never, ever forget to look inside the wardrobe. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Spilt Milk: Helen of Troy on Motherhood

I've always been interested in the experience and treatment of women in myth. I've written about Ariadne and Pasiphae, Medea, Medusa, Aphrodite, Djinn, Eve, Daphne, ClytemnestraAndromache, and yes, Helen. I like thinking about the untold stories of women, scraping beneath the surface of the myth to think about what lies beneath. To consider the jagged emotions, the power and the motivations, and in particular, motherhood.  Spilt Milk, finds Helen reflecting on her decisions, on the eve of the fall of Troy. 

 Spilt Milk

Ten years ago, I left her. As my lover murmured against my neck, as I shivered, enthralled, my womb wept from within. They'll find her a wet nurse, I told myself. A nurse to witness her dawn smile, a nurse to feel the press of her tiny fist as she fed. A nurse, not me. My fate was to launch a thousand ships, to bring rivers of blood to the pale sands of Ilium.

Night presses against my skin, a humid blanket. I've woken to a pregnant moon and the pungent smell of curdled milk. That smell, Gods, that smell. Memories taunt me of hot skin stretched tight over burgeoning breasts, splintering pain and a tell-tale stain oozing through my robes. Motherhood, leaking away.

Fate, or choice? I try not to think about that.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Aurora Awakened by a Kiss

I haven't seen Maleficient yet. I want to. It looks amazing. It sounds amazing. And it's reimagining a fairytale. I love reimagining fairytales and Sleeping Beauty is one of the best. I rewrote it before, thinking about what it would have been like for the little people who weren't lucky enough to be cast into a 100 year sleep. The weavers and wool makers. Not good.

Today I got to thinking, what about Aurora? Forget about Disney. Forget about meeting Philip in the woods and sleeping for all of five minutes before your dramatic rescue. Think about sleeping for 100 years and being awakened by a stranger, after 16 years as a peasant girl. What sort of readjustment is that? How frightening? 

And this is the story that was spawned:

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Seven Sins of Regency Romance

Work-life has been so busy lately, I've been like a wet teabag squished all flat and saggy by the teaspoon of office life. There has been intellectual capacity for anything bar box sets (yay Buffy! yay Firefly! yay Battlestar Galactica! yay Once Upon a Time!) and well worn novels.

However, I was moved to write because I read a book that so disappointed me, it got me thinking about things I never want to see in romance ever again. The book was Potent Pleasures and its by one of my favourite authors, Eloisa James.

Eloisa James writes clever, vivid historical romances. Her Desperate Duchesseseries is a triumph.I recently read the latest in that series Three Weeks with Lady X and liked it a lot. I liked its clever, strong-minded heroine. I liked its hard headed, resilient hero. I loved its intelligent writing and sensuous description and its entertaining side characters. It is good. Her Duchess Quartest series is ace. The Essex sisters books are extremely likeable. 

So, led by the nose (as always) by the allure of Amazon's recommendations progressed onto the next Eloisa James recommendation: Potent Pleasures

Mounties always get their man. Night always follows day. I always finish books. Even bad books. 

But boy did I struggled with this one. It's a sinner, baby. It did the kind of sinning that makes me grit my teeth with frustration and want to scream out loud. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Farthest Away Mountain: Feminist Fantasy

I first read The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks in about 1988 (it was first published in 1976). Many moons later, I just read it to my little girl - and found it even more fascinating than I did first time round. But before I tell you why, let's talk about the front cover of the 1988 Lions paperback edition.

It looks like some sort of Scandi-goddess tarot card! Or is the Book of Hours I'm thinking of?

Look at the verdant pagan symbolism in the border. Look at how Dakin's got the glowing magic ring levitating between her hands, powered no doubt by her sheer awesomeness. Even her hair glows white, no doubt scaring off witches with it's own gleaming purity.

And the mountain? It's dayglo.

Just cool. Like the book.

Most of the other covers of this book that I've seen  look like pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood, with Dakin staring up at the farthest-away mountain looking somewhat daunted. And Dakin is never daunted. Well, not much. So if you ever get the chance get this one. Anyhow, on to the book - and then an analysis of the book.

Get yourself a cup of tea... there's a lot in here....

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Horror Bites: A Bag of Heads

Lovely Scottish writer Laura James is hosting a brand new flash fiction challenge , Horror Bites, and it's all about HORROR. Now, I'm not much of a horror writer. Or reader. Or watcher. I had to leave the cinema three times during Dawn of the Dead and then sleep curled up on my flat mate's floor to keep away the nightmares.

I do not do horror. But inspired by writer Ruth Long's example, I wanted to join the party. So here's my effort. The prompt?  "A Bag of heads."

A Bag of Heads

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Pantsing Time Traveller or Ways to Stay Sane

I'm a reformed character. No really. All future novels will be planned, carefully and tightly plotted (with thanks to Sophie Moss and Ruth Long for their inspirational example).

Unfortunately that doesn't help me with the existing ones. Like the one I thought was pretty damn good, until I reread it and saw that the plot needed just a little tweak.

Have you ever tried to do just a little tweak to the plot of a novel? It's the literary equivalent of being Marty McFly going back in time and practically scoring with his own mom. Do you remember that sickening moment when poor Marty pulls out the photo of his family and sees his siblings disappearing?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

3 Ways Gaming Can Help us Write Better Novels

I haven't touched a computer game since the days when you'd load 'em up via a tape cassette and then play on a greenish coloured screen with a joy stick.  

A State of the Art bit of kit in the 80s... 

We're talking a long time ago. A long, long time ago. 

However, the quest for geekdom continues and this month Searching for SuperWomen leader Emmie Mears, issued a summons to Come All Ye Gamers. As a contributor to SfS I could hardly say no. You can find out what happened on The Day I Learned To Game

It's fair to say this was something of a revelation. Like living in the Truman Show and suddenly realising you could burst through the sky and find a whole new universe. Untrammelled creativity. Whether, Scribblenauts when a simple word can conjure any object you desire, or Skyrim, where you build yourself and your quest from the outside in. 

The more I thought about it, the more I think gaming and writing go together like apple pie and custard. For writers, they provide valuable lessons in how to immerse someone in the story you're creating.  So what lessons have I learnt in the 24 hours since I first disposed of my gaming virginity? 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Geek Love: a Valentine's Day special

Valentine's Day isn't for everyone. Oddly enough, despite loving to write romance, I get a bit squeamish about Valentine's Day itself. It's the intense scrutiny. The feeling that some people are getting left out. I like a more inclusive sort of festival.


It is also a cast iron excuse to Get Your Geek On. So for your viewing pleasure please find some of the finest Geek Themed Valentines Pinterest has to offer:

Follow Meg McNulty's board Geek Love on Pinterest.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Words are beautiful: Wordle

I heart Wordle so much. There is so much fun to be had in making art out of your wordsmithery: it brings out something quite unique.  Here is my Medea, rendered in Wordle:

Sunday, 19 January 2014


I've been watching Jason and the Argonauts. The 1963 one. Not once, but repeatedly because it's my daughter's current obsession.  I've got nothing against that. I love Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans was the first and foremost reason I chose to study classics) and I love seeing how myths are retold in different generations.
No 60s film is complete without an exotic dance or two
Jason is of particular interest though because it features my Favourite Greek Myth Figure of all time: Medea, a woman I find endlessly fascinating. Not because she murders her kids. But because she crosses all sorts of boundaries between divine and human and no one seems to notice.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2014: The Year of No Ambition

2013 was the year of No Writing.Writing hasn't been the only thing to suffer. Blogs have fallen by the wayside (with the exception of Searching for Superwomen - thank God for Emmie Mears, keeping us focused). I've turned into a social media pariah. November melted into the busiest work month ever and, despite elaborate preparations, NaNoWriMo was an epic fail. 

In all fairness, that's because it was also the Year of Buying My First Home and the Year of Getting A New And Utterly Mind Boggling Job.

Moving House takes its toll