A beautiful winter wonderland. Sparkling. Fresh. Perfect.
And then there’s the monster. Me. Again. Yes, I have succumbed to some of my old monstrous ways. But it’s not as bad as before. I’m not in hospital this time. I’m in a winter wonderland!
Storm Arwen pulled down some of our old pines and left us with no electricity for a couple of days. But we were cosy and well fed. We played board games and stoked the fire. We listened to audio books in the dark till the iPad ran out of power.
Before that, when I could feel the beginnings of monstrosity happening, I ran round doing things I knew I might not be able to do for long. I bought festive food in the shops. I visited Berrybrae Stone Circle.
The trees around the circle looked dark and forbidding.
I found it hard to climb up onto the wee wall around it with my gammy leg. But I made it…
So, for now, I’m content to read blogs and reviews and take short hobbles through the beautiful snow, feeling glad to be able to return to electricity and the cosy fire… and maybe even a bit of writing.
This hospital windows post was originally written in 2020. I am a lot better now.
Diagnosis and Drugs
The start of the post title is a bit of a lie. In fact it’s a total fabrication. There’s no derring-dos on the high seas recounted here. I do have crutches, so am a bit peg-legged and I like to think there’s an (imaginary) parrot on my shoulder. I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, so my body has basically been trying to kill me. I’m now on medication to stop those efforts, but I have to be checked once a week in case the drug makes its own attempts to kill me. So there are elements of a thriller genre at work in my life.
Finding Beauty through Hospital Windows
During my month of cannulas, needles, tests and scary procedures I sought beauty where I could find it. Through the hospital windows. I woke the first morning to a beautiful pink sunrise and a rather wonderful view of St Nicholas Kirk steeple, the church that features in THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. Despite the fact that I wrote of truly terrible events involving that steeple, I found it somewhat comforting to see it there. I felt a connection to the place. It lit up in the evening sun too.
Strange Covid Times
But I was soon moved. This was something that was being done due to Covid. Constant rearranging of patients between wards. Decisions made by ‘bed managers’, not medics. It didn’t make any sense to me, and the medical staff were pretty unimpressed by it too.
However, it meant that I got to see through many different windows. This next ward – oncology – had the worst view, just a small box of buildings, but the best bed. Air mattresses are magical things. Lying in them is a little bit like being hugged as they inflate and deflate to maximise your comfort.
I was soon off to sparkling chimney sunrises and sunsets.
The Party Room
Then, finally, the last of the hospital windows. At first I was quite annoyed about this move. Diagnosed and treated, just awaiting final tests, I was shunted away to what felt like a far flung area of the hospital, and I no longer had my own room. I posted a somewhat morose quote from Lord of the Rings about the sunrise that morning on Instagram.
But, it really worked out very well. The other three ladies I was with were lovely. There was kindness and understanding between us all and we shared frequent laughing conversations, our room being referred to as the party room by the nurses.
And it had a swashbuckling sea view… just.
While I was in hospital, a rather wonderful review went up on The Rose and the Thistle blog. Reading the opening line cheered me up instantly! “Before I go any further, I just have to say, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Yes, it is written in one of my favorite time periods, and yes it takes place in one of my favorite places in all the world, but when you combine that with the almost poetic style of Sinclair’s writing—sigh!”See the whole review here.
From the provocative opening scene to the later dramatic and devastating events of the story, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a book that will continually surprise, delight, and sometimes shock the reader. The novel features the beautiful hill of Bennachie, and the stone circles of Aberdeenshire, along with the cliffs and caves of Cullykhan Bay.
Review from Terry Tyler: “It’s a fabulous story, a real page-turner and so well written. It made me think about the passage and circle of time, of the constancy of the land on which we live and the transient nature of human life. Loved it.” See the whole review here.
This monster post was originally posted in 2020. Happily, I am less monstrous now.
Being a Monster
I don’t need a Halloween costume this year. I already look like a monster. The medication I’m on to stop my body killing me (condition lamented here) has made my face swell up. Like a moon. It is a well documented side effect actually referred to as ‘moonface’. The same drug is also causing insomnia so I have massive eye bags that extend to what feels like halfway down my face. There’s quite a lot of bandage action across my body too, which adds an air of mummification fun to the whole ensemble.
I’m also pale. Pale like a ghost.
A Historical Monster
However, being a monster on the outside, in appearance, is nothing to being truly monstrous. While researching witch-hunting in preparation for writing THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, I wanted to find a real monster, a person so enthused for the brutal activity that they could become a focal point for that dark energy in the story. History did not give him up easily. There was no obvious individual in the court documents or confessions. But I hunted him down and finally cornered the rogue in the financial accounts of Aberdeen.
In September 1597 William Dunn, Dean of Guild, was awarded, £47 3s 4d (the equivalent of £6000 in today’s money) for taking ‘extraordinary pains in the burning of a great number of witches’. It was unusual for someone to be given a large lump sum like this. With the exception of some witch prickers and those who sought to escheat their rich relatives, money was not commonly a motivating factor in the witch trials. William Dunn’s job was being in charge of the public money of the town, so he basically gave the cash to himself. I found you Sir, and I made you smell of rotten fish! If you read the historical notes section of the book, you’ll see that I’ve also cast him as the devil.
So now I’m editing FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE and, 150 years later, there is brief mention of the Dean of Guild again. It does seem to be a role associated with making money from the suffering of others, at least, historically, in Aberdeen.
There’s a review I forgot to mention earlier, being rather distracted by the task of becoming a monster. It’s from Undiscovered Scotland: “The Mermaid and the Bear is a delight from end to end. There is a superb level of description in the book, that transports the reader back to the sights, sounds and smells of 16th Century life in a Scottish castle.” See the whole review here.
A spooky wee quote for this spooky old season:
Chosen Sisters, Romans and Romance
Set in 1st century Scotland, my latest book, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance.
Review from Terry Tyler: “It’s a fabulous story, a real page-turner and so well written. It made me think about the passage and circle of time, of the constancy of the land on which we live and the transient nature of human life. Loved it.“
The term ‘blue mind’ describes the mild meditative state that we enter when in or close to natural bodies of water. It was coined by marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols. He wrote a book on the subject and did a Ted Talk too:
So ‘blue mind’ in mind, and encouraged by my wee trip to Rosehearty Harbour last week, I ventured out again. Travelling slightly further this time, I arrived at New Aberdour beach where everything was blue, blue, blue…
Blue Mind to Pink Rocks
Feet bare, I sat on the pink rocks and stared out to sea.
I saw stones and pools and pink, lots of pink everywhere.
I am just looking at the soft shapes of land, and the hard shapes of rock, as they drop away into the sea. No in-between places up on top here. No beach, no marsh. Here the space between life and death is painted clear. You could be walking on grass one moment and dead on the rocks the next. This is a place of instant transition from one state to another.
Rosehearty harbour, pretty with pink thrift growing in the foreground.
So, I’m out.
In the car.
Whizzing through the countryside.
Seeing things that are not my garden, not my house: ripening crops, winding roads, people, tractors, dogs…
I’ve moved on from the small blue ball I was before. In my excitement to be out, I overestimate the level of moving on that has occurred. Going into a shop turns out to be a mistake that leads to pain and shaking and a slow hobbling retreat.
But sitting by Rosehearty harbour, on a bench, in the sun, is perfect.
It’s progress, and it’s good.
Read more about the harbour at Rosehearty, one of the oldest seaports in Scotland, here.
Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!
Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, 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.
FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!
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?
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.
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.
I’m welling up just looking at the line now, overcome by all that it references.
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.
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.
A pause by the bluebell woods on the way back from hospital. A biopsy may provide answers to the mystery of me and my strange body, who knows?
The flowers smell sweet. I breathe them in.
An easing comes. A moving on from the small blue ball. A sort of pinkening. Lilac flowers are taken in from the garden and I sit in a delicately scented cloud of beauty.
Then, a few steps, and I am outside.
It is glorious. Painful still, but better. I can envision being well again.
The sunshine. The breeze. I love it all.
Thoughts of writing come. I left my poor characters in the middle of the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. War. A situation far worse than my own. I must release them from it soon.
Before all this, before I became ill, I got here – to the golden orb – with my ‘fun project‘:
The main character in the book is neuro-diverse.
As am I.
Illness makes me open, bared and true. Pain peels back layers of politeness and hesitancy and doubt. I just say things. I just am.
I still hope for a summer release, a later one obviously, maybe early autumn. My body will have its say in the matter. But it will come 🙂
Update: Sisters at the Edge of the World is out now!
At first I thought there was only a single line of daffodils in the snow. I stopped to take photos. Like I would do on any other day out. A day out just for fun. Not that there have been many of those lately.
I walked along the path and headed down the steps where I was met with this stunning bank of yellow.
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