Saturday, 30 April 2011

Carp Rustlers

Hi, All,
It's May already; the hawthorn is blooming and there are so many bank holiday I'm getting my days mixed up.
Times are very busy, but I thought I'd give you a writing round up and tell you about my latest book Carp Rustlers. In the writing world it is often said that one should write about one knows. I took this to heart when I wrote my first book, Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales. I've been an angler all my life; won a sack-load of trophies and a bit of money, so I had a lot to say on the subject.
After writing the fishing book I started writing my first novel, Bossyboots, but the advice, writing about what you know, kept ringing in my ears. So, I wrote a book about writing, Writing: How to get Started as as Freelance Writer Plus a Guide to Self-Publishing & POD.. I wrote that book because I believed there was a gap in the market regarding self-publishing from a UK perspective.
When I was looking for a book on the subject everything seemed to be written by Americans.
Anyway, I'd been a freelance writer for a few years; I wasted a lot of time chasing dead ends, so having paid my dues I thought I'd pass my hard earned knowledge onto others who wanted to become freelance writers or learn more about self-publishing. Eventually, I got back to writing Bossyboots and published it earlier this year. What to write next was a bit of a problem. I had several plots going around in my mind including one that followed my progress in Austraila after having been forced into migrating to Melbourne by my father when I was an impressionable sixteen year old. .
Perhaps I'll get round to that one day because it fits in with the advice about writing about what you know. Anway, Carp Rustlers the book I've just written is a detective novel which revolves around fishing, so my knowledge will be put to good use. The book is the first in what I hope will become a series. Carp Rustlers is the first book in that series and follows Fred Tench, an angler who also happens to be a detective. He is based in Stoke-on Trent and is investigating a case where a couple of naughty carp rustlers are the villians. The book is written and currently going through the proofreading stage, hopefully it should be available by the middle of May.
I will let you know when it is available through this blog. In my next post I will be picking up the tour of Scotland where I left off in Lochgilphead.
If you want to know more about me or my books Please click here

Monday, 25 April 2011

Crinan Canal via Glasgow

Hi all,
carrying on with my clockwise tour of Scotland, in 2006 we decided to take a holiday close to the Crinan Canal and booked a lodge on the side of Loch Sween. We had ventured into this area three years previously when on holiday on the banks of Loch Awe. On one of our trips out we visited the Crinian Canal and fell in love with the place.
Bellanoch Basin on the Crinan Canal is pictured on the right.
Although we haven't seen the whole of Scotland, I doubt there is anywhere more delightful than the corner of Scotland that takes in the Mull of Kintyre and the Crinan Canal. It may not have the rugged splendour of the Great Glen or the majesty of the Coullins on the Isle of Skye, but is has a charm that is unique and a beauty that caresses the soul.
However, there is a downside; travelling to the Crinan Canal is much more demanding than visiting the borders because Glasgow gets in the way. It's a long journey up the M6 from Stafford, but before you enter paradise you have to negotiate the big city. The most obvious route is to follow the M74 towards Glasgow and onto the M73. Then turn left onto the M8; a very busy motorway that goes through the middle of the city. It takes you westwards and then back south over the river Clyde until you eventually find the Erskine Bridge where you will finally turn north again and via the A82 leave the city behind you.
This bit of the journey is very tedious and I always think there should be a better way to get around Glasgow. If there is it would make the journey to the North west of Scotland more inviting.
I've tried getting off the M8 before it goes south back over the Clyde at Junction 17, but this took me through part of the city with traffic light every ten yards and I thought I'd never get out of the place. Looking at the map, it seems that a more direct route would be to get off the M74 well south of Glasgow at Junction 5 and follow the road through East Kilbride and Paisley and join the M8 just before the Erskine bridge.
I haven't tried this route, if any of you have or know of a better way around Glasgow I'd love to find out more.
The good news is, once Glasgow is out of the way the rest of the journey is bliss and you are soon travelling along the banks of Loch Lomond.
At Tarbet we turned left and changed our loch side drive to one that followed the banks of Loch Long. Onwards through the rugged pass at the strangely named Rest and Be Thankful and we eventually came to Loch Fyne which is famous for oyster. Again we followed the banks around to the town of Inverary and passed over the pretty bridge that stands in front of Inverary Castle. By the time we arrived in Inverary it was mid afternoon, but we carried on with the long journey down the side of one of Scotland's most beautiful lochs and eventually came to Lochgilphead, which can be seen below.
This is the view from the bottom of the main street looking over Loch Fyne towards Ardrishaig where the Crinan Canal starts. Anyway, Lochgilphead would be the nearest place with shops to our chalet on Loch Sween, so we stopped and stocked the car up with groceries. We were now within fifteen miles of our destination, but rather than the rush the last part of this journey I will leave it here and tell you about it in my next post.

Meanwhile if you want to find out more about me please take a look at my website please click here.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mellerstain & Bannock

Hi all,
Today is the last day of our Peebles holiday in the Scottish Borders, and we are going to visit another stately home. Mellerstain House is a huge mansion situation about 7 miles North of Kelso, which is probably one of the nicest towns in the Border region.
It was raining when we got to Mellerstain House, so we took our time and enjoyed the many fine paintings and the ornate and colourful, classical plasterwork.Much of the interior work was done by Robert Adams in the eighteenth century and it's a credit to the various generations that have lived there since, that they didn't get rid of it in an effort to stay with fashion.The gardens at Mellerstain are a bit on the formal side for us so seeing as it was raining we didn't explore them as thoroughly as we would have otherwise done.
All in all Mellerstain House was a pleasant place and well worth a visit.
After leaving Mellerstain we decided to have a look around Kelso, a lovely town set admist some beautiful secenary. We parked in the big cobbled square, had our lunch in a pub a few feet away and were then spoilt for choice by the big range of shops. I even found a lovely little bakers that sold Selkirk bannocks.
In my last post I mentioned that the bannock is one of my favourite cakes, but sadly they are not readily available, even in Scotland. A Selkirk Bannock is a big rich fruit loaf that always reminds me of a curling stone. It is, in fact, a great big bun that is stuffed to bursting with raisins.
Have you ever bought a bun, and when you cut it open to butter it, you find that the fruit is few and far between. Well a Selkirk bannock is the opposite, when you cut it open it is just a mass of juicy rains and you wonder at what is holding the whole thing together. My mouth is watering now, just at the thought of it.
My introduction to the Selkirk bannock came when I was on holiday in Wooler which is just over the border in Northumberland. I bought one at the beginning of our holiday and it lasted me a week even though I had two huge pieces every night. So impresssed was I with the bannock that we called into the same village bakers to get one to take home with us. The shop had only just opened when we arrived, so you can imagine my disappointment when I looked in the window and saw that he didn't have a singkle Selkirk bannock on display. There was a Montrose Bannock, but that wasn't what I was after. Anyway, I decided to go in and ask the baker if he had any Selkirk bannocks out the back.
"No," he said, "but you could have a Montrose bannock, it's just the same."
"Sorry," I said, "But I like the Selkirk bannock and that's what I'd got my mind set on."
However, he was very insistent and kept pushing me to take a Montrose Bannock.
"Look sir, I guarantee that you will not be able to tell the difference between a Montrose bannock and a Selkirk bannock."
"How can you be so sure says I."
"Because I get up at four o'clock every morning and make the bloody things and I call them what I want. I'll stick one of my Selkirk Bannock stickers on it if you want, but it won't taste any different," he said cheerfully.
I guess this was his attempt at a marketing strategy called branding, but we won't go into that now. Needless to say the Montrose bannock tasted just like the one I'd been eating all week.
So it was late on the Friday afternoon that we left Kelso and followed the River Tweed, which had by now become a familiar friend, back to Peebles. We'd had a great week and had a bannock in the boot, life doesn't get much better than that.
By the way, if anybody knows any baker in Staffordshire that make Selkirk bannocks I'd love to find out where.
If you want to find out more about me or my books please click here
If you want to see some of our paintings, or more photos of Scotland please click here

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Thirlstane & Cake

Hi All, Despite the terrorist atrocities of earlier in the week we were determined to enjoy the rest of our Holiday in Peebles, so we went to visit Thirlstane castle. Instead of driving through Peebles town and following the river Tweed towards Lauder, where Thirlstane is located, we went north and took in a scenic drive through the Mooorfoot Hills.
This was to be a leisurely day, so we took out time, kept our eyes peeled for eagles and stopped to walk the dog along a pleasant stream. Eventually we came to the small town of Lauder, where Terry Anne popped into a shop to get us some cake for the picnic lunch we would be having later.

She was quite dismayed when she came back to the car. "Bloody Hell," she said. This was unusual for my wife who doesn't generally use such language. "Guess how much I've had to pay for them," she said as she showed me the contents of awhite bag. Now I love a bit of cake, but I'm no expert on the price, so I reckon the two macaroony looking affairs looked like forty pence cakes to me (Remember this was 2001. So I doubled it up and the price came to eighty pence. I didn't want to guess too low because given her tone I thought she must have been charged more than she expected, so I added a good bit on to take the wind out of her sails. "One pound fifty," I said with a smile, knowing that I wouldn't be far away.
"Miles out," she said, "Those two little cakes cost me two pound sixty. It's day light robbery. I nearly said to the girl in the shop," and at this point she switched on a broad Scottish accent, "will you no be having a sale Lassie?"

We both laughed and then carried on to Thirlstane. The castle at Thirlstane is quite magnificent; everything about it oozed with history and we even got to see the room where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed after giving us English a good hiding at Preston Pans.Walking around stately homes and Castles is very tiring and Thirlstane was no exception so we were pleased to get back to our car and partake in our picnic which included the two gateaux priced macaroons.

Although they were expensive the macaroons turned out to be very nice and it got me thinking about how the Scots love their cake. Shortbread has always been a favourite and one of their cities is even named after a cake (Dundee). It was at this point of my musings that I remembered an incident that happened in the early sixties when I was about ten years old. I was living with may parent at the time in the little village of Seighford in Staffordshire, and was informed that we were going to be visited by Edgar and Irma, a couple of Scots from Edingburgh. Edgar was an ex-soldier that my father had served with in Germany, so it was going to be a grand reunion and they were going to stay over for a the night. This in itself was a major happening because until then, nobody had ever stopped over in our house.

Anyway, the visit went well especially for the landlord of the local pub whose till never stopped ringing. When it came to sleeping arrangemenets there wasn't much room in our council house, so my parents gave up their bed for the visitors and slept on the living room floor. What's more they even got breakfast in bed and I can remember my father coming down stairs with their order.
"They want cake," he said.
"Cake!" my mother replied, for breakfast."
"Yes, it must be a Scottish thing."
And so it was that they both had a quiet chuckle to themselves and I looked on sadly as our Chocolate Swiss roll went up the stairs to be eaten by the two Jocks. Apparently they cut it in half and had it between them, an act that produced even more laughter.

I mentioned earlier that I like cake and it upsets me that some cakes can only be purchased in certain region. In parts of Yorkshire you can buy curdy cake, which is about as close to heaven on a plate as you can get. In the Scottish borders they have the Bannock which is another favourite of mine which is absolutely delicious, but I'll tell you more about that in my next Scottish post.If you would like to find out more about my books please click here.If you would like to see more photos of Scotland or some of our paintings
please click here.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Big Sixty

Hi all,
Yesterday I reached sixty; no bells rang and there wasn't a big party..
I'm pleased there wasn't a party because that would've absolutely ruined my day. It may come as a surprise to those who knew me a few years ago that I am now a very modest drinker.
I haven't quite given up altogether, but my monthly intake is about the same as I used to sup in one night. Having said that one couldn't have a sixtieth birthday without any drink at all, so I was pleased that my wife had bought me a bottle of Drambuie. I'll be able to make myself a nice shandy or two and it will keep me company for the rest of the year.

Anyway, that's enough about the demon drink, it's making me thirsty and reaching sixty is no excuse to get sloshed. My wife also bought me a fishing licence, so I will be going fishing this year after all. Speaking of my wife, she pulled out all the stops and painted me a beautiful birthday card using watercolours and guache. It can be seen above and I don't know about you, but I can almost hear those startled pheasants squawking. Painting me a birthday card is getting to be a habit; the one she did last year can be seen below.

One of the more unusual presents I received was a pyrography tool.
It's a bit like a soldering iron that is used to burn artwork into wood. Apparently, pyrography was a favourite past-time of Victorian ladies who used red-hot pokers that were heated up in the fire. I've seen examples in craft shops and it looked interesting, so I thought I'd give it a try. The only mistake I made was in not getting some suitable wood to try it out on properly. I had lots of bits of pine in my shed and thought that would do, but the instruction book warned against using pine because it is too soft and too sappy.

In my frustration I did try it out on a spare pine shelf-bracket and you can see the results on the right. It's supposed to be a birch tree and some mushrooms, what do you think, is it worth persevering?

In my next post I will be carrying on with our tour of Scotland.

If you want to see some more of my wife's paintings please click here to visit our art website.
If you want to find out more about me or my books please click here.