The Maiden Stone and Persephone

Persephone
the maiden stone

The Maiden Stone

The beautiful pink granite Maiden Stone stands near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. It is an 8th century Pictish stone. On one side it bears designs favoured by the Picts, such as the comb and mirror, the mysterious Pictish Beast (Dolphin? Elephant? Mermaid? Nobody knows…) and a centaur at the top.

centaur at the top of the Maiden Stone

On the other side there is a very worn Celtic Cross, indicating that this may have been an early Christian preaching site.

the Maiden Stone, cross side

Maiden Stone Folklore

There’s a rather wonderful tale attached to the stone.

A maid from Durno was baking a batch of bannocks one morning when a handsome man appeared at her door. He bet her that he could build a road up the hill of Bennachie before she could finish baking the bannocks. If he won, she had to marry him. Unfortunately, the man was actually the devil and he built the road with great speed. The maid ran. He chased after. Just as he caught up to her, she prayed to be turned to stone rather than have to wed him. The notch on the stone is where the devil grabbed her shoulder as she transformed.

The Statue of Persephone

Persephone

A couple of hundred yards to the west of the Maiden Stone, in the woods, is a statue of Persephone. She was carved from 8.5 tonnes of millstone grit in 1961 by the artist Shaun Crampton, and her story echoes that of the Maiden Stone. In the Greek myth, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, was carried off to the underworld by Hades to become his wife. Zeus decreed that she should be released as long as she had not eaten anything in the underworld. But, poor quine, she had consumed some pomegranate seeds. So she only got to return for six months of the year, the six months of growth and harvest.

The statue holds some pomegranate seeds in one hand, and a mirror like the one on the Maiden Stone in the other.

Persephone near the Maiden Stone in Aberdeenshire

On the day I visited, someone had left a pomegranate at her feet.

pomegranate at Persephone's feet

And, like the Maiden Stone, the back of the statue is worth viewing too.

Back of Persephone

My Books, set mostly in Aberdeenshire

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair

The latest novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, is now out in both kindle and paperback. It features Bennachie, Romans, Celts, romance, a neurodiverse main character and the Battle of Mons Graupius. Out now!

More titles

books on pink

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations, a handsome Laird, an ancient stone circle and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

ballet novel, TENDU, by Ailish Sinclair

See my About Page here

Newsletter

Go here to sign up for my (roughly monthly) newsletter. It’s a more intimate space than the blog and always includes some exclusive photos.

Tip Jar

Share Your Books and Writing with Me!

Share your books with me!

And any other writing, such as poems, blogs and excerpts from your work in progress. I want to see it. My readers want to see it. Show us those heartfelt creative efforts.

Share your books!
In local bookshop Better Read Books in Ellon

No-nos

There’s so many no-nos in the online world of writing today. Review swaps are against the terms and conditions of Amazon and other places. ‘Buy my book!’ DMs on social media are just annoying and unprofessional, and thankfully much rarer than they used to be. This week a writer (big 5 publisher, famous agent) posted a ‘buy my book’ comment on one of my Instagram posts. We don’t follow each other. The book had nothing to do with the subject of my post, so it seemed a bit desperate and, again, unprofessional. It did not make me want to buy the book; in fact, it was off-putting. An invasion of space even.

But it got me thinking about spaces where it is good to share, and here we have this post.

Share you books! Witchy books.
Witchy books…

Share Your Books!

There’s no no-nos here today. The comment section of this post is a free for all sharing space. Post your own work and peruse that of others too. You’re also welcome to add links 🙂

And talking of adding links, if you have a book and a blog, it’s a good idea to post some way to see those books in the posts. I’ve quite often been impressed with writing on a blog and looked for a mentioned book to no avail.

I have a Facebook group for sharing any books that have a Scottish connection. See it here.

I want to see your books and writing, people! So post away…

And, of course, here’s mine:

the novels of Ailish Sinclair

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations, a handsome Laird, an ancient stone circle and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

feet

See my About Page here

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that always include exclusive photos and news of my writing and life.

Balgorkar Stone Circle and Castle Fraser

Balgorkar Stone Circle
On the way to Balgorkar Stone Circle

This post details a day in 2014 when we set off to find Balgorkar Stone Circle and visited two castles and another circle too.

We headed off to look for the stones. But first, there was a quick stop at Fraserburgh beach where the haar (Scottish word for mist that rolls in off the sea) hung low and filtered the sunlight in a silvery way. A seagull flew by as I took the photo.

Balgorkar Stone Circle

Inland we travelled, to bright sunshine and summer colours and the stones of Castle Fraser.

To the left in the picture below (click to see larger image) are two standing stones and to the right, in the distance by the trees, is Balgorkar Stone Circle (also known as Castle Fraser Stone Circle). The stones were visible from the road, so quite easily found.

standing stones and a Balgorkar stone circle

Up the side of the field we walked.

Balgorkar Stone Circle in Aberdeenshire

I thought we’d have to just view the stones from there, but no, some naughty person had trampled a pathway through the crop, so we did no further damage by walking it.

illicit path to Balgorkar stone circle

The recumbent and flankers, dark against the field:

Balgorkar stone circle

Castle Fraser

Next we visited Castle Fraser, where I was meant to be doing research for writing on heraldry, historic dates and architecture. This took the form of running about taking photos:

Castle Fraser

I loved the rooftop and later wrote about it here.

turrets

Kildrummy Castle

Then, after picnicking, with only half the day gone, we decided to head to ruinous Kildrummy Castle, a few miles further on.

more serendipity at Kildrummy Castle - Ailish Sinclair, author

There in the reception was an old friend who I hadn’t seen for years. There was hugging and much talking. Other people got fed up waiting to be served… We kept saying it was amazing. My friend is currently doing a PhD in history, so some of our conversation became spontaneous research.

We finally moved on to look around:

great hall

I do appreciate the use of the adverb ‘treacherously’ there; without it we might think Osbourne the Blacksmith to have merely made a mistake or had an unfortunate accident such as tripping with a pot of molten metal or dropping a freshly forged sword.

window

Broomend of Crichie Stone Circle

The day ended with a visit to Broomend of Crichie stone circle, Pictish stone placed in the middle.

Broomend of Crichie

This blog post is ending in a rather unrelated way, with some ballet. It’s beautiful and romantic and only two minutes long. It’s Scottish Ballet performing at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Historical Fiction featuring a castle and a stone circle!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair
Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

ailish's feet

My About Page

Writer’s Begging Tip Jar

Byronic Heroes and the Bad Boys of Ballet

Quote from TENDO by Ailish Sinclair, a book with a Byronic hero.

I’m still deep in the TENDU manuscript, though the end of this edit approaches and I’ll soon be returning to SISTERS.

Between chapters, I’m watching things like this:

Byronic Heroes

Sergei Polunin, known as the bad boy of ballet, was born in the Ukraine, as was my own ballet bad boy from TENDU.

Unlike the mainly perfect men from MERMAID and FIREFLIES, Aleks is a Byronic hero. What’s that, you ask?

From Dictionary.com:

A Byronic hero is a type of fictional character who is a moody, brooding rebel, often one haunted by a dark secret from his past. The term describes the type of main character found in many fictional works by Lord Byron, who is said to have had this type of personality.

I love Byronic heroes. I love reading them. And I love writing them. He is very naughty though, and I will have to punish him for the rest of his life. Oh, the FUN!

Side note: see my post on Gight Castle, the ancestral home of Lord Byron.

Interview

Ailish Sinclair

I was recently featured over on Instagram in a Fast Facts type interview. Read about my obsessions, fears and atrociously bad singing here.

Books

books on pink, not a Byronic hero in sight

Set in a castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

ballet feet of Ailish Sinclair

My About Page

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that always include exclusive photos and news of my writing and life.

Writer’s Tip Jar

Just a wee description of a castle rooftop today…

castle roof
Photo taken at Castle Fraser

A castle rooftop from my work in progress:

The gable of the great hall rose high to the front, a huge chimney boasted diminutive battlements, and other lower layers of pink castle sprawled out haphazardly in front of me. There were three small turrets, upended cones that had been meticulously finished round and round with ever smaller and smaller lichen dotted tiles. Tiny mismatched windows blinked in the sun: circles, squares and one narrow bent rectangle. Sections of roof ended randomly, some with mossy little steps to nowhere; one jutting brick triangle had been shaped to fit the side of a sloping turret.

Excerpt from TENDU by Ailish Sinclair

And that really is all today. Because: busy writing. Been sucked in to the manuscript and am finding it hard to leave.

Other castle rooftops are available.

As are other thefts from castles.

Other books too

A Ballet Novel and a Tale of Publishing Woes

An aesthetic for TENDU, a ballet novel by Ailish Sinclair
Aesthetic for Tendu

I am now editing my ballet novel, a dark contemporary romance, TENDU, having pulled it from the proverbial drawer where it’s been for the last three years.

I’m LOVING it. I’d forgotten quite how much FUN this book this. It also feels as if I’m connecting to a different version of myself. Me before illness took hold. Me before doctors and medication and pain. It’s doing something to me, current day me. Something good. The book is funny and witty and SO naughty. I am slightly concerned that no one will be able to look me in the face again after reading it. But, hey-ho, life’s too short to worry about things like that, and I intend releasing this novel and the rest of the series in the near future.

It’s had a tumultuous publishing journey though. And I’m sharing that today.

pointe shoes, a ballet novel, TENDU, by Ailish Sinclair
Lovely Porselli Pointe Shoes

Publishers

I sent TENDU out into the world of publishers and quite a large one offered on it quickly. However, they wanted me to change something fundamental about the plot of the series (three titles) as a whole. And I couldn’t. Or, more correctly, I wouldn’t. I am always willing to make changes that will improve a book, but this was just to make it fit the guidelines of a particular romance line. It would have become formulaic. So, much to that publisher’s astonishment, I turned them down.

Time went by.

MERMAID got accepted by a British publisher (not to be confused with the ones I’m writing about here. GWL are very organised and always on the ball), and then along came an offer from a small American press for TENDU. It came with amazingly generous royalties, and no big requested changes, and I accepted it.

And more time went by.

After 18 months (the time, according to the contract, by which the book should have been published) I emailed the publisher and asked when things might get going. There was no reply.

Writers Group

Into the writers group I went. This was an amazing resource. All the writers from that publisher, chatting together and, as it turned out, sharing the same tales of woe. Through the group I learned that the woman who owned the publishing house had become too ill to continue working and she had sold the company. I had huge empathy for that. The new owner had a large backlog of books waiting to be published and it was all taking a very long time. The slowness of publication didn’t really bother me. I was rather busy being ill, after all.

But then the stories began to change. Already published writers were not receiving royalties or statements. Cheques were bouncing. So, three years after signing the contract, I asked for my rights back. And I got them. Very politely. Very apologetically. So there are no hard feelings, and I’m not going to name the publisher. They are still going though…

ballet novel, TENDU, by Ailish Sinclair

And that’s where I am.

SISTERS is back with the editor. I’m working on a press release for it and delving deeply into TENDU. I’m loving being in the castle again, yes the same one from the other books. It’s a dance school in the modern day. I love the characters. I love the stone circle and the dancing and the chocolate and the London bits and the romance. I love the story of this ballet novel, dark as it sometimes is.

And it all feels good.

Books

books on pink

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

My About Page

Mailing List

Down the Rabbit Hole… to a Book Cover!

huge white rabbit
white rabbit leading to a book cover

At first it doesn’t feel quite real… where is the white rabbit leading? To a book cover? That seems odd…

This Alice in Wonderland style post dates from the build up to the release of THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR in 2019.

The rabbit leads us down or, as is more accurate, through, a giant rabbit hole!

down the rabbit hole to a book cover

Things get stranger yet as we pass between a huge fork and knife…

a giant fork and knife at Brodie Castle

We come to a place of unicorns.

unicorns and a book cover

We want to stay here with the unicorns, but we have to move on, to see…

miniature castle

A miniature castle! We go inside, and peer out like giants.

view from castle window, almost at the book cover now

We hear sweet music, percussion. Everything feels dreamy and lovely.

music to a book cover

And then, finally, this is where the rabbit has been taking us… to the book cover!

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

Set in a castle in Aberdeenshire, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features a fictional account of three real women who were accused of witchcraft in 1597. It’s also a love story. And the cover makes it all very real now to Ailish (the Gaelic form of Alice)…

She needs to have a nice lie down like the huge white rabbit (6.5 metres long) in the Playful Garden at Brodie Castle, featured in this post.

huge white rabbit

Don’t miss any of Ailish in Wonderland’s news; sign up to her mailing list 🙂

The Mermaid and the Bear is out now in both paperback and Kindle. 

Mermaid blurb

Crying While Writing: anyone else do this?

Crying while writing: Star of Bethlehem flowers
Star of Bethlehem in the meadow

Crying while writing. Crying while editing. And even crying while thinking about writing, as the scenes, both happy and sad, play out in my mind. It’s no wonder I’m sometimes dehydrated!

So, am I the only one?

Tell me I’m not.

I can’t be.

Emotive writing is, just that. Springing from emotion. Causing of emotions. If the writer isn’t fully immersed, how can the reader ever be?

crying while writing: Rhododendron flowers on the pink bench
Rhododendron flowers on the pink bench

Marketing

But then, I read other things, sensible things really. Like, when we market our books, they should be regarded as ‘products’ and we should not be emotionally attached to them. This is meant to work well. It makes better ‘business’ sense. And we should write to a ‘market’ and design covers to a genre stereotype. The first one I can maybe manage, at least while marketing, but certainly not while writing. The rest, no. It all flows fast and organically out of me and I have no choice but to go where my heart takes me.

ox eye daisy
Ox Eye Daisy

So. I sob on. The latest line, from SISTERS, to set me off was: In the midst of great loss, the newness of a baby helps.

Floods.

Breathlessness.

I’m welling up just looking at the line now, overcome by all that it references.

Rhoddies. Crying while writing

Editing

This emotional aspect of writing is one of the many reasons good, thorough, even brutal, editing is so important. We, or at least I, need someone less attached, someone who did not write the words and scenes, to look at the work objectively and say: this could be better, this is not clear, were you under the influence of one of your stronger prescription drugs when you wrote this? Because in our, or my, invested blubbering state, we might not see it. We might not know.

The book is on its way back for edit three soon (GWL did spoil me with their three editing process, and I won’t do less now), so all is well there.

It is possible that illness is making me worse, crying-wise. I feel a bit pathetic and vulnerable. But that will pass. I will get stronger again. And you’ll get nice sensible and scenic posts about castles and standing stones 🙂

But for now, I recover – from both medical conditions and writing – in the garden. Among the flowers. With a candle.

crying while writing, a candle outside
Lovely soothing candle from Tilly’s Candle Shop… sniff…

Giveaway

On a happier note, one that doesn’t make me cry anyway: I’m doing a signed book giveaway over on Instagram. See it here. It runs all week (June 19th- 26th 2022) with one of each book up for grabs and it’s a worldwide competition.

book giveaway

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

feet

About page updated

New Book: Sisters at the Edge of the World

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair
Aesthetic for the new book from Ailish Sinclair: Sisters at the Edge of the World.
Aesthetic for the book

Work on the new book is forging ahead nicely. The aim is for it to be released this summer, but that may be subject to change.

Update

The book released on the 21st of September 2022.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

See the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts on publishing options. My publisher, too, gave me lots of wonderful advice and information, and while they would have been willing to look at the manuscript, despite its shortness and strangeness, I am choosing to self-publish this novel.

Thanks also to everyone who has donated through Kofi. With traditional publishing there is no cost to the author (remember that, don’t be taken in by vanity presses posing as traditional pubs; there’s a lot of them about), but this time I’ll be paying for everything myself, so thank you so much!

Being ill, having chronic conditions and facing my own mortality have made me want to experience things while I can. And if those things can be accomplished sitting at my desk, all the easier. So, it’ll be an adventure! That’s how I’m thinking of it anyway…

Aspects of the book

  • The main characters are fiercely bonded chosen sisters. Can their bond survive betrayal and perhaps even death? (Already attempting to write the blurb here).
  • The story is set in the 1st century CE and features the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman invaders and the Caledonian tribes.
  • There’s romance, but it’s rather complicated romance this time.
  • The stone circle is still there in all its glory.
  • The castle is not, obviously, but there is a great round house where it will be one day. And a wee hoosie in the woods.
sunshine and frost in the woods
Sunshine and frost in the woods

Edit in: and now it has a cover!

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD cover

Do sign up to my occasional mailing list to be kept abreast of developments and also for exclusive photos…

The traditionally published books

Ailish's books

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

Memorial: the History of Witchcraft in Aberdeen

leg fetters
The Steeple of St Nicholas Kirk

Aberdeen has quite a brutal history of witchcraft accusations (and other dark events such as mass kidnappings). This post details the start of my research into those areas.

Memorial

Cowdray Hall War Memorial and the history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

Aberdeen’s Cowdray Hall doubles as a war memorial and a venue for classical concerts, and it’s where I started my wee tour of the city on this day.

Gaol!

Leaving grand places behind, I journeyed on to the Tolbooth Museum, a 17th and 18th century gaol.  Unlike the pristine war memorial, the prison exhibits the dark nature of its origin for all to see. The small cells are stifling and scary. They smell stale. There are a few of those terrifying pretend people; some of them talk, regaling you with tales of their mistreatment.

leg fetters: history of witchcraft
bars in the 17th century gaol

The 18th century record of prisoners reveals many debtors, a murder spree and one intriguing entry of unspecified ‘outrages’.

outrages

History of Witchcraft Accusations

An interesting fact gleaned behind the bars and bolts and padlocks of the jail was that people accused of witchcraft were once imprisoned in the steeple of St. Nicholas Kirk. Out the door I went.

door to the cells: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

The present day kirk is serene and beautiful and open to visitors in the afternoons. The steeple sits just above the part pictured below. It’s not the same one that was used as a prison in the 16th century, but it is situated in exactly the same place.

Those boards on the left display a detailed history of  the church,  but there was no mention of witchcraft.

church and history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

There was an excavation happening in the east part of the building. Lots of skeletons were uncovered along with a metal ring that ‘witches’ were once tied to.

archaeology: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

The 12th century St. John’s Chapel houses a memorial to those killed in the Piper Alpha oil disaster. These amazing chairs are part of it. They sit right underneath the steeple.

carved furniture as a memorial

This window depicts the history of Aberdeen. It was paid for by the oil and gas industry so those themes dominate.

14664648327_339113ba52_z

I walked down steps and cobbled streets in search of comfort, hot chocolate and books.

research

Unfortunately there’s not much comfort to be found in researching The Witchcraft Act and all that followed.

The Witch Stone

History of Witchcraft: the witch stone near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire

It is said that witches were tied to the witch stone near Fraserburgh, and burnt. The landowner questions whether this was the case as no documentation exists on the subject. But such evidence was often destroyed, or omitted from written history. After the burnings and ‘dookings’ and other well specified outrages by church and state had ended, people were ashamed. And rightly so. But where’s the memorial in that?

Memorial through Dance

70 years since D-Day, BalletBoyz pay tribute to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives with a specially commissioned short film for Channel 4:

More Witch Related Posts

The book that eventually sprang from all this is out in both paperback and Kindle now!

See the publisher’s press release here.

Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

Mailing List

Keep up to date with all my news by signing up to the mailing list. It’s a more intimate space than the blog, and always includes some exclusive photos. I aim to send it once a month, but don’t always succeed!

Writer’s Tip Jar