Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Goodbye and Hello. (I Hope!)

I've been writing this blog - a companion to my eBay shop of the same name - for some time now. But things change. I'm still collecting antique textiles, still dealing in them, but over the past six months, it has become clear that the balance has shifted and I'm doing far more writing - and publishing under the Wordarts imprint - than antique textile dealing. I don't think I'll ever stop. I'm too passionate about textiles for that and find them well nigh impossible to resist. So I'll still be haunting my local saleroom, still doing a bit of buying, researching and selling.
In fact, I often become so fascinated by my textiles that I find myself writing about them and their history in novels such as The Curiosity Cabinet, and my newest novel, due for publication to Kindle in the next week or so, a Scottish historical novel called The Physic Garden.

Over the past eighteen months, my novels, short stories and plays have been selling well on Amazon's Kindle Store (the handful of traditionally published books aren't doing too badly either) and there are a lot more where these came from, all kinds of backlist titles, as well as new but as yet unpublished work. I plan to publish something, whether it's a trio of short stories, a piece of non-fiction, or more full length fiction, to Kindle, every month for the whole of 2013. I may not manage it, but I certainly have enough good material to do it!
Alongside this, the plan is to put at least some of this work out on Kobo and to publish all the novels, starting with the Physic Garden, which is very dear to my heart, in paperback as well, for those who haven't yet converted to e-readers. It's a tall order, a lot of work, and it will be exciting - but time consuming.
Added to this, I'm a regular contributor to a blog called Authors Electric - you'll find me blogging on the 18th of the month, but there are lots more fascinating and varied posts on there, so do check it out. I'm also serving on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland, as well as on various local village committees, I blog regularly about writing on my Wordarts blog AND I have a new venture planned with a handful of other writers for later this year.
All of which has meant that I've been neglecting my Scottish Home blog.
But there's more to it than that. Quite often, I'll write a post about the history of a piece of embroidery, for instance, or an interesting antique - but I won't quite know whether it belongs here, or on the Wordarts blog. My own 'Scottish Home' in rural Scotland, is a big part of what makes me tick as a writer. The Physic Garden, which is set in Glasgow and in the countryside round about, in the very early 1800s, brought that home to me very vividly. And of course, there are textiles and gardens in it.
So, I've taken the difficult decision to amalgamate the two blogs. All the posts from the Scottish Home will be staying where they are. I'm not deleting anything. But in future, I'll be writing - rather more often, I hope - about a mixture of writing, textiles, history, gardening, living in Scotland, more writing - and all kinds of other interesting things, as well as a few reviews of new and old books thrown in for good measure.

If you've been following this blog, it will still be here. But if you want to read new posts, please go to Wordarts, and follow me there. Which is why I've titled this post Goodbye and Hello. See you over on Wordarts, I hope.

Monday, January 07, 2013

My Dolls' House At Christmas - And A New Project

The house with the dolls going about their business!

The nursemaid at her sewing machine.
 There's been a very long silence on The Scottish Home for which I apologize. Before Christmas, I was busy with a couple of writing projects which took up almost all my time.
They still are taking up a lot of time, but one of them is particularly relevant to The Scottish Home, of which more in a moment. Just between Christmas and New Year, we succumbed to a nasty virus which seems to have floored most of this village. We became couch potatoes for a while and spent most of our time watching old movies on the television. Fortunately, we were well supplied with them! We're on the mend now, but it meant that our Christmas holidays weren't as vibrant as they might have been and we had to turn down one or two nice invitations.

You may remember that last year, my 'big' Christmas present from my husband was a magnificent Georgian style dolls' house. I had wanted one for a long time. Alan had made one for me many years ago, but it wasn't quite the style I wanted and it was rather big.

Eventually, I gave it away to a young family member, but I stored up all my miniatures, some of which had been brought back from Vienna by my late mother when she and my father lived there for a year. I knew that sooner or later, I would find the house I wanted.

Maybe Mrs Dolls House Doll is feeling a little unwell too? A doily makes a nice mat.
And then I found it, online, in time for Christmas 2011: the house I had been looking for.
I made an offer on it, and it arrived, carefully packaged, in a huge cardboard box. As soon as I could, I dug out the box with all the lovely furniture and miniature items, and installed them in the house.

The cook takes a welcome break in her kitchen.
I've been 'playing' with it on and off all year. There is quite a bit still to do. I think it already looks lovely but I want to make curtains and stair carpets and more decorations for the walls which still look a little bit empty to me. The house has a couple more dolls now, too. At first, the family consisted of a mother, father, little boy and baby. Now there's a nursemaid and a cook, too. I like to pretend (well, I am a writer, after all!) that the house is really much bigger than it appears, that there are rooms you can't actually see.

Mr Daddy Doll reading. No Kindle in evidence though! 

I took quite a lot of photographs of the house trimmed up for Christmas, so here they are! We even included a Christmas tree with a little bough from the lodge pole pine which was our own Christmas tree. And I took the three tiniest dolls out of my big Russian doll and put them on the mantlepiece in the drawing room.

So what about this new project? Well, for some years now, I've been dealing in antique and vintage textiles as a way of helping to buy a little more time for my own writing. Now, though, the balance has shifted a bit. I'm not abandoning the textiles altogether, but thanks largely to Amazon, I can now spend more time writing. I have, however, learned a huge amount along the way, so I'm currently working on a guide to dealing in collectibles, mostly online, as a way of making some extra income. It strikes me that many people would find it useful. It should be ready for publication as an eBook in the first instance, by the end of January. That's the plan, anyway. Watch this space for more information.

The Nursery

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Scottish Village Renaissance

It's been a long time since I posted on here, mainly because I've been concentrating on finishing a brand new novel called Ice Dancing, which you can find on Amazon Kindle, here in the UK, or here, if you happen to be reading this from the USA. There was a lot to do to it, to get it ready for publication, and I was also spending quite a lot of time travelling around Scotland for various talks, festivals and meetings. I've been acquiring and processing some textiles as well, mostly at auction, so I have lots of things to list before Christmas. They are all clean and sweet smelling and neatly piled up in my big stock cupboard. I look at them and think 'oh dear, better get started then!'

The new novel, which isn't really about Ice Dancing at all, is set in a small Scottish village, a lowland Scots village of the kind I know well, and like very much. The ice dancing is a metaphor for something else, although it does feature ice hockey in Scotland and an athletic Canadian hero with a dark past. 'A nice man to whom bad things have happened' as one of my readers says. And she's right. But essentially, this is a novel about village life, the good and bad, the closeness and familiarity of it all, the way in which everyone knows everybody else's business, the safety of it and the occasional frustration of it all as well. I think it's quite a loving portrait, because I enjoy living in the countryside - but I'm also aware that it can be a bit of a mixed blessing.

I was thinking about all this today when I popped out to our village shop. It was a fine morning, after days of rain, and the village was looking rather cheerful with lots of autumnal activity. And I was thinking that just three years ago, although the village was picturesque and friendly, things seemed to be on the slide. The pub had been closed for a while and was looking derelict. The one and only shop was on the verge of closing. The school was looking a bit the worse for wear. Some of the houses were empty and unkempt. Some of our annual events seemed to be falling into abeyance with nobody to organise them.

Cue forward a few years. The shop is now community run, and includes a cafe as well. This morning it was busy and full of the appetizing smell of home baking. Two young men were sitting in the cafe drinking tea and waiting for their breakfasts. The fruit and vegetables had just been delivered (by the local retired doctor, who does the veggie run every week!) and there were covered plates positively stuffed with the most appetising and enticing home baking imaginable, all made in time for the weekend. The village hall was ringing with the cheerful sounds of children playing. We are getting a brand new eco friendly primary school and while it is being built, the school has been transferred to the newly redecorated hall. The pub has been renovated and reopened with a fabulous new restaurant. The village is decorated with pretty tubs, already planted out with winter pansies - courtesy of our new and very successful gardening club. Last week, the attendance at our reinstated firework display was bigger than ever. We supplied soup and hot dogs for the assembled spectators, and collected a good contribution to the next village event. We have had all kinds of gatherings and events, ceilidhs, and parties, most of which have been well attended and enthusiastically received. The few derelict houses have been sold and are already under enthusiastic renovation. In short, the village seems to be 'on the up' all over again.

It didn't happen without a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment on the part of a great many people though! And it didn't happen without the usual grumbling and the odd dispute. Has it all been worthwhile? I think it certainly has. Communities need a lot of hard work and good will to sustain them. Let's hope we can keep it up in the future!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Brave Textiles

Went to see Disney Pixar's Brave in the cinema the other day with a couple of friends. We thought the cinema would be reasonably quiet, since the movie has been out for so long in Scotland, but in the event, it was almost full: lots of little children who were absolutely captivated and - apart from giggling a lot, which we were doing as well - were all as quiet as mice. And this is quite a long film for tinies.
A big plus was the fact that the Scottish accents were absolutely authentic - Billy Connolly, the brilliant and gorgeous Kevin McKidd, Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson. It was funny and clever and there was plenty to keep young and old alike entertained: plenty of slapstick for the kids, plenty of clever dialogue and subtle animation jokes for the adults.
In short, this was a thoroughly entertaining film, but what struck me most of all (well it would, wouldn't it?) was the sheer beauty of the textiles. They were the very platonic ideal of textiles. Lots of plaids, wound around warriors (which must have been sheer hell to animate) and Merida's dresses. Oh and the scenery, which was wonderful.
When I got home, I googled the subject, to find that the textiles were indeed a miracle of art and animation: have a look at the link for a lot more information - and, of course, Merida's astonishing red hair, which seemed pretty amazing to me.
Worth a look, whether you're into animation, film, textiles or - like me - all three at once!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Embroidering Lives - Researching Costume History for Novels

When I'm not buying and selling antique and vintage textiles (or deciding to hang onto them, because I love them so much!) I'm a professional writer and these days, I mostly write novels. You can read all about me and them on my Amazon Author Page, here.   A lot of what I write is historical. The Curiosity Cabinet is partly set on a small island in early 18th century Scotland while The Amber Heart is a big romantic family saga, set in 19th century Eastern Poland.

I often find costume and embroidery figuring in my fiction. Central to the Curiosity Cabinet is a little raised work cabinet, such as can be admired in Glasgow's Burrell Collection. The heroine of that novel, Henrietta Dalrymple, finds herself having to alter and wear another woman's clothes, and they are described in some detail. I can remember having to point out to my editor that yes, bright Indian cottons would have been imported at the time, and might well have been worn by a lady of quality. Similarly, in The Amber Heart, Maryanna's mid nineteenth century clothes are described in some detail and on one occasion at least become quite central to the plot. Such details - so long as they aren't overdone - bring a scene to life and for me, are part of the joy of writing fiction.

In fact, for me, one of the chief pleasures of writing historical fiction is the research involved. I love finding out about things, how people lived and what they ate. I particularly love finding out about how they dressed and how things were made. One of the best books I ever found at a library sale, was a volume called Costume in Detail, 1730 - 1930 by Nancy Bradfield. It is stuffed full of detailed line drawings of the way men, women and children dressed over 200 years, from underwear outwards - an absolute gift for a writer and I've used it more than once.

A few years ago, I attended a session at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, designed particularly for writers. The curator of costume at the time allowed us to see various items at close quarters and even to handle some of them. It's always a revelation to me to handle these items, to see how they were made and to realise that sometimes dresses which appear beautiful on the surface are cobbled together underneath! They have a sort of theatrical quality to them. The curator also pointed out that the wealthy were cleaner than we might suppose and changed their 'linens' - their shirts and underwear - often, as can be seen from the inventories of possessions, including clothes. It was the top garments which weren't washed (and sometimes had to be unpicked for cleaning.)

Also interesting for me is when I buy boxes of old textiles at auction, and realise just how treasured some of these possessions were. I'll find little baby gowns, for example, which have been mended and patched, carefully and beautifully, over a number of years.

The picture above (and detail right) is an embroidered christening cape, dating from the very early 1800s. I bought it years ago with the intention of selling it and then couldn't bring myself to let it go. It is so very beautiful, in silk and satin, embroidered with tiny, delicate but wholly realistic flowers. I found myself wondering all the time about the woman who might have made it. Who she was. What became of her. The result was a new novel called The Physic Garden, set in early 1800s Glasgow: a story of friendship, love and betrayal, much of it set in and around the 'physic garden' - the medicinal garden of the old college of Glasgow University. It will be published as an eBook before Christmas 2012 and as a paperback some time in 2013.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Rocking Horse Man

The horse that came home again.
Years ago, when our son was born, my professional yacht skipper husband, Alan Lees, decided that he no longer wanted to be away from home for months on end. He didn't want to miss Charlie's baby years - all those milestones. Alan's last long trip was to the Canaries to skipper a charter yacht for the winter. The baby was six weeks old when we borrowed a small apartment in Los Cristianos on Tenerife. (It was a quieter place back then - not quite the extension of Las Americas it has since become.) I flew down with the baby in January and spent several months living there - blissfully - with Alan joining us whenever he could. My parents came for a couple of weeks and later on my mother-in-law joined us for another fortnight. I remember it as one of the happiest times of my life: warm and sunny, with a gorgeous and thriving new baby in a country where children were always welcome.

When we returned to Scotland - although Alan carried on working as a professional sailor from time to time, he was also looking for a way of working which would allow him to spend more time at home. He had always been artistic and creative, always been good with his hands and as a sailor he had undertaken a certain amount of shipwrighting work when and where necessary. So he became a woodcarver. Sometimes the two professions joined together in wholly unexpected ways as when this large carved monkey (left) was transported to Largs, for installation at Kelburn Country Park - by water!
I don't know where the idea of rocking horses came from, but I do remember his first attempt which was a rather basic outdoor horse that our son played with until it fell apart. After that, came a carved and painted pony, still going strong all these years later. It's a vintage item now and lives at the house of some friends where it was ridden by their four daughters and assorted visiting kids, our own son included, over many years.

Soon though, Alan was making the most wonderful carved sculptural horses: a string of them in oak and ash,  gessoed or polished wood, all with starry names: Rigel, Alpharatz, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Orion, Sirius... we lost track of where they went, although Zuben'ubi, a huge and wonderful creature on bowed rockers, stayed at home and lives with us still.
Mostly they were commissioned by grandmothers, ostensibly 'for the grandchildren' - but people would quietly admit that they themselves had 'always wanted one.'
We didn't make any fortunes.
Horses are hard, heavy, time consuming and expensive to make and whatever Alan was paid was never enough to give him a decent hourly rate - but that's the nature of the arts and crafts sector.
People did, however, start to call him 'The Rocking Horse Man.'

Just how sad can an old horse get?

Advanced surgery

After a while, he began to be asked to restore old horses so - having researched the whole subject - he added this work to his portfolio. We're not really talking conservation here, since most of the time, there was little to conserve. These poor beasts were battered beyond recognition: worm eaten, tattered and torn, falling to bits, sometimes badly restored by well meaning individuals, covered in thick gloss paint and with plaited wool or rope manes and tails. One actually arrived as a bundle of sticks in a box. Often, they had lost a jaw. Another had been burned on a bonfire by the 'nice' people to whom it had been lent by its previous owner, and had been rescued only just short of total dissolution. That one - restored to its former glory as a surprise gift for a retired owner - provoked tears of joy, and almost made us cry as well!


A brand new horse, leaving in a horse box!
Now, two of these restored horses have come back to us. On both occasions, I saw them in a saleroom with a jolt of surprised recognition. One is small, one is very large, and both are Ayres horses: the Rolls Royce of rocking horses. The large one has a rare and unusual side saddle, and probably dates from the late Victorian or early Edwardian period. The smaller of the two is a bit newer - probably 1930s or 40s. Both of them were restored with a great deal of loving care. It's kind of sad to see them on the market again - but perhaps people simply didn't have the space. We're in the process of rehoming them - you can find them listed in our eBay shop, The Scottish Home.
Alan carved other items, of course, not just horses. He spent many years working on massive outdoor sculptures of all kinds. Sadly, crippling arthritis finally caught up with him and he can barely walk these days, let alone carve. Instead, he paints in acrylics - bright pictures, full of life and movement and human figures- indulging a love of colour which sculpture seldom permitted - except where these lovely cheerful rocking horses were concerned.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Antique Textiles, Scottish Islands and eBooks on Amazon Kindle

When the gorse is in bloom, kissing's in season.
As many readers of this blog probably know by now, I have two jobs although I'd find it hard to say which is the  'day job' because I'm fairly obsessive about both of them. I buy, collect and sell (when I can bear to let them go!) antique and vintage textiles of all kinds - and research and write about them whenever possible. But the other half or more of my time is spent writing mostly fiction, mostly novels as well as the occasional stage play. Two of those novels are set on small Scottish islands and in both of them, the landscape of the novel is an essential part of the story.

The first of them, The Curiosity Cabinet, was published in the conventional way first (you can still find the odd paperback copy on Amazon) but when it went out of print, the rights reverted to me, and last year I published it on Amazon's Kindle Store. You can find it here, if you're in the UK and here if you're in the US.

Gorgeous cover art by textile artist Alison Bell
This is essentially a historical novel, in which the troubles of the past are in some way resolved in the present. The gorgeous cover was made for me by my friend and mentor, Scottish textile artist Alison Bell - it's as beautiful as a piece of lace, and I'm eternally grateful to her for it! The Curiosity Cabinet will almost certainly be of interest to textile nuts like me, because the 'cabinet' in question is an embroidered, raised work Jacobean box, and there is also a certain amount of description of period costume within the novel.

My other 'Scottish Island' novel is called Bird of Passage. (Or look here, if you're reading this in the US) Dealing sensitively with the shocking realities of state-sanctioned physical abuse and its aftermath, this is a powerful story of cruelty, loss and enduring love. In 1960s Scotland, young Finn O’Malley is sent from Ireland to work at the potato harvest and soon forms a close friendship with Kirsty Galbreath, the farmer’s red-headed grand-daughter. But Finn is damaged by a childhood so traumatic that he can only recover his memories slowly. 
What happened at the brutal Industrial School to which he was committed while still a little boy? For the sake of his sanity, he must try to find out why he was sent there, and what became of the mother he lost. As he struggles to answer these questions, his ability to love and be loved in return is called into question. 

Why am I posting about all this on The Scottish Home now? Well, if you're reading this blog during the week beginning 7th May, you can download Bird of Passage to your Kindle - free - on Thursday 9th and Friday 10th May. And if you fancy reading The Curiosity Cabinet as well, I suppose that means you could get two novels for the price of one. Other books are available, especially my big new romantic historical novel set in Poland. It's called The Amber Heart and there's lots of lovely period costume detail in that one as well. I'd be grateful for any reviews, especially if you enjoy what you read. And please do spread the word to anyone else you think might be interested in these novels. And if you want to read a bit more about my 'other day job' have a look at my website: