It is my pleasure today to give a big shout out to Eleanor Harkstead fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, lover of history, men in kilts and all round fabulous author. Some of you may remember that I interviewed Eleanor (aka Helen Barrell) back in June 2017. At the end of that post I asked her what she was working on and she said:
“With two non-fiction titles under my belt, I’m focussing on fiction for a while. I’ve recently started to write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon – we have historical romance and romantic thrillers up our collective sleeves.”
Their contemporary short story about feuding theatricals, ‘An Actor’s Guide to Romance’, is available on Amazon. The first installment in their Captivating Captains series, the historical novel The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, will be published on 3 April 2018, and is available to pre-order. Both titles are published by Pride. If fancy reading ‘something different,’ give Eleanor and Catherine’s novel a try.
I met Eleanor through the Birmingham Chapter of the RNA and we discovered a common bond: writing, romance, a love of history and Scotland. To give you a taste of Eleanor’s work, I thought it would be fun to ask her to write a piece about Men in Kilts. Here it is:
The Ballad of the Scotsman in a Kilt
The first time I visited Glasgow with my Scottish partner, he assured me that I wouldn’t be seeing anyone in a kilt. “No one wears kilts in Scotland. Only bagpipers wear them, and old men in the islands.” Reader, I was disappointed. Until we got off the train at Glasgow Central and found ourselves in a swirling morass of Scottish footie fans who were off to see their team play an international match. Almost everyone was in a kilt.
“I thought you said no one wears kilts in Scotland?” “Erm….” was his reply
On another trip to Glasgow, my partner decided to buy a kilt. The ground floor of the shop was full of shortbread and whisky, and knickknacks featuring lake monsters and West Highland terriers. We headed down into the basement to the kilt department, where the heavy tartans and tweeds muffled the sounds from the street above. First, to decide the tartan. Being a Wallace, my partner does have a tartan for his surname, but he found its red colour a bit brash. So he opted instead for the Wallace hunting tartan, which is mainly a dark green. Obviously, you’d startle your quarry if it you had a quantity of bright red fabric swinging about your thighs as you crossed the springy heather, so each tartan has a hunting variant. Also – each tartan has an “ancient” variant, where the colours are more muted. After choosing his fabric, my partner was measured up. A kilt should be worn high on the waist, not low-slung on the hips, and it should come above the knee.
I’m sure you won’t mind me referring you back to the image of the heavy fabric swinging about the thighs as our Scottish chap strides up the side of a mountain – if the kilt is below the knee, that stride is going to be rather difficult. There’s an option to have a “sports kilt” – this involves less cloth (the pleats mean kilts are made from a vast amount of fabric), and they’re made from synthetics rather than wool. This makes them easier to move about in, whether you’re tossing cabers or heading off to a football stadium.
A sporran, next – my partner chose a plain leather one. You can get all sorts of designs on them, such as thistles or the St Andrew’s cross, as well as ones made from seal fur. If you must, you can have a ceremonial dagger – or sgian dubh – to tuck in one’s sock, then you have to choose your jacket. Does sir want a black “Bonnie Prince Charlie” jacket, or perhaps for that laird-striking-out-across-his-acres look, a tweed with buttons made from bone? And as for the shirt, will sir be wearing a plain white one or a Highlander-style billowing blouse? Whilst I evinced an interest in a shirt of the more billowing variety, my partner decided it would make him look like a jessie, so he wears one that he bought from Next. With a Wallace hunting tartan tie, of course.What footwear for a kilt? There’s traditional lace-up brogues, or you could go with a buckled shoe, or heck, why not go a bit punk and wear DMs or motorcycle boots?
A flutter of excitement went through my English family and friends once it became known that my partner had his very own kilt. He wore it when we visited my mum on her birthday in that most unScottish of English counties: Essex (well, apart from the Dagenham Girl Pipers).
My mum was exceedingly pleased with the kilt, and demanded she have her photo taken stood beside my partner in his Scottish finery. I am dismayed to relate that she told him it really suited his rear. Yes, it certainly does; that wouldn’t have passed me by, but mother – really. We went out for dinner on my mum’s birthday, so my partner decided to wear his kilt. On the way to the restaurant, my mum insisted we stop off in Sainsbury’s. The locals of Brentwood had never before seen a man in a kilt sashay through the aisles of their supermarket and my partner left a sea of astonished faces in his wake.
All except one local who came up to him to declare that he was wearing the Blackwatch tartan. My partner tried very politely to explain that he was wearing the Wallace hunting tartan, but she wouldn’t have it. Because of course, who could be more expert on kilts than someone living in Essex? “I know it’s the Blackwatch tartan – I’ve got it on a biscuit tin.”
Those better be shortbreads, or I’m having words.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no wedding is complete without a man in a kilt. We looked at the photos of a friend’s wedding to discover that a nice picture of my partner stood beside the bride was complete with women of a certain age in the background who were very obviously staring at his legs. At another wedding, he noticed that several female guests were deliberately getting their photos taken so that my partner and his kilt – and of course his legs – were in the background.
He’s even received an invitation to a wedding purely based on the fact that he owns a kilt. Unfortunately, on the day my partner was at a loss to find the right shoes, so turned up in trousers. As disappointing as this may have been for the women who were so looking forward to staring at a strange man’s knees, he wore his tweed jacket and tartan tie with his trousers, so he still brought a suitably Scottish vibe to proceedings.
And what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Boxer shorts – in plaid, of course.
Many thanks to Helen/Eleanor for writing that piece for the blog. If you want to know more about Eleanor and her work, here are the links.
My week in retrospect – blogging, writing, Goodreads Giveaway, fabulous presents – and surviving the dreaded lurgy.
You can read the blog post here https://wp.me/p5IN3z-cRi
I’ve also been learning how to make animations on ripl.com What do you think?
If you’d like to share my tweet here’s the link
I spent quite a chunk of the week monitoring my ‘paid for’ Goodreads promotion. Here are the results. The promo was limited to the US and the winner chosen at random. I was able to mail the book direct to her via my Createspace account. Simples.
Would I do it again? If I see a spike in downloads, yes; if not, no. I’ll be blogging about it in more detail in the near future. Tune in for more details in a couple of weeks.
I spent some of the week composing guest blog posts and sending them off to bloggers/writing blogs to go out in March.
The highlight of the last ten days or so was being long listed for the Exeter Novel Prize. Fingers crossed I make the short list.
I have also been cracking on with my work in progress which I hope to publish late spring. I have two fabulous editors working on this with me and when it’s ready I’ll be zooming it over to my proofreaders. I have also recruited a new member to my team to check accuracy of location etc. I think I’ve got all the bases covered. Cover reveal sometime after Easter – hopefully.
While all this activity was going on, my husband (code name Bongo Man), and I have been smitten by the dreaded lurgy – equivalent of the American term, cooties – and had to cancel our proposed caravan trip to the Cotswolds. We hope to try again in March.
In the meantime . . . a fabulous present arrived from the Diva from DumbartonWe can’t wait to find a space for the gifts next to the hand-crocheted blanket and cushion our mate Carole Matthews made especially for the new van. I have Carole’s new novel – A Million Love Songs on pre-order, something else to look forward to.
Well, I guess that about wraps it up. Must dash. Bongo Man, still laid up with the dreaded lurgy, has requested a slice of Battenberg cake to accompany his mid morning cuppa. Better head for our local co-op and hope they have some on their shelves. Laters.
Have a great week. Keep on reading, writing, blogging and reviewing.
On my blog today I’m very pleased to welcome Helen Barrell. They say that the truth is stranger than fiction and Helen’s book Poison Panic, described as ‘A clever mix of family history and true crime’ – Angela Buckley, is a great read if you’re looking for something ‘different‘. But I’ll let Helen do the talking . . .
Tell us something about yourself, Helen
Librarian by day, and author by night; I’m surrounded by books all the time. I’ve always written, but it’s my non-fiction Victorian true crime which has been published, while my fiction lingers on in a drawer. I live in Birmingham, with my partner and two cats, and drink far too much tea. I dress up in historical costume when the mood takes me. And I didn’t intend that to rhyme. Sorry.
Who or what has inspired you the most/ to become a writer?
My grandad, who used to sit me and my brother on his knee, and make up stories as they came to him. My favourite ones were about his time in France and Belgium during WW2 – he used to turn his adventures into ghost stories. Haunted, abandoned chateaux were his speciality, as well as his retelling of the haunting of Borley Rectory. Some people have commented that I write how I speak, and perhaps it’s that storytelling courtesy of my grandad which is behind that. There were always books in our house when I was growing up, and I loved going to our local library. At some point, I made the connection between the stories that people tell with their voices, and the stories people tell by writing them down.
Being a modern author, Helen has used the power of the internet to bring her stories alive for her readers. Click on this link to watch her fabulous book trailer for Poison Panic.
If you’d like to hear Helen reading from Poison Panic, click here.
When you’re not dreaming about poison (!) describe your typical writing day I fit my writing around my job, so I tend to write in the evening, heading up to my desk as soon as I get home from work. I manage to fit in two hours of writing that way. I spend chunks of my weekends writing as well. I’m a bit of a hermit, really! I will sometimes write during my lunch hour or if I get an idea that wakes me up early, I’ll give up trying to get back to sleep and spend some time writing early in the morning. I commute to and from the day job on foot, and I find walking a wonderful way to get lost in my thoughts. So “writing” happens then, too. When deadlines loom, I take holiday from work to write. Recently I took a day’s annual leave in order to work on my book’s index – yes, an index. Such are the woes of the non-fiction author.
Social Networking – a help or a hindrance? I’m never entirely sure how well social media helps to sell books, but I will say that it’s an excellent way to get in touch with other writers. Getting to know other writers is an excellent way to share your pain! Twitter is even worth using purely as a writing tool: that focus required to fit what you need into the character limit is good discipline for saying much with little.
Tell us a little about your new book- Fatal Evidence – A surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital in London, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor used new techniques to search the human body for evidence that once had been unseen. A toxicologist, he could also identify blood on clothing and weapons, and used hair and fibre analysis to catch killers. He gave Charles Dickens a tour of his laboratory, and Wilkie Collins owned copies of his books. For Dorothy L. Sayers, Taylor’s books on forensic science were ‘the back doors to death’.
Fatal Evidence is available for pre-order here
Tailcoat and waistcoat by Walker Slater of Edinburgh
. . . and finally, Helen – and tips for fledgeling authors? There’s no point sitting about not-writing, telling everyone “I’d really like to be a writer,” or “I can picture myself musing at a typewriter by a picture window.” Just get on with it! Whatever it takes – fire up your laptop, open “notes” on your phone, grab a pen and paper, the back of an envelope, or a clattering old typewriter if you really must, and write. Even if it’s a few lines of conversation, a description, a plot outline. Something.Get some words down. They might not be amazing words, but get them down. And then you’re not not-writing, you’re writing, and you’ve set your foot on the path to being an author.
I hear you, sister ! Thank you for coming onto my blog, it’s been fascinating and, who knows, I might be knocking on your door for advice if I give up writing romance and go over to the ‘dark side’. (Helen kindly took these photos of Tall, Dark and Kilted when she visited Edinburgh recently.)
Some reviews of Helen’s work
Reviews for Poison Panic “A clever mix of family history and true crime.” – Angela Buckley, chair of the Society of Genealogists.” “These scandalous true stories are as compelling as any crime fiction.” –All About History magazine. “Poison Panic is an intriguing read that brings a forgotten history to light and reveals past attitudes to women – and a national fear that gripped Victorian Britain.” – Family Tree magazine
Finally – what are you working on ATM?
With two non-fiction titles under my belt, I’m focussing on fiction for a while. I’ve started work on a 19th-century police procedural series, set in the riverside village I grew up in. I’ve recently started to write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon – we have historical romance and romantic thrillers up our collective sleeves.