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"A Scottish Wind in the Willows on high end skunk."

"I enjoy Kate's stories..."
"A fun and spooky read..."

"The characters are so involving and
loveable that you do want them to really exist. It does read like you've
stumbled across someone's long lost diary from and alternate timeline/universe.
I quickly got into the story and loved every second of reading it...
total gem of a read by an author who deserves a lot more recognition."


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Orange Cannibal Sheep of Frockall

"How dare you steal our treasure!" shrieked the sheep.  He was the biggest of a very big...well, I would normally say "flock", but this lot were more like a gang.  There were at least ten of them, all sporting varying shades of orange wool, with enormous, garish yellow teeth and green staring eyes with pupils that moved constantly, as if controlled by an internal gyroscope.

"We hadn't got that far," quavered Geoffrey.

"That's right," I said quickly," We were only looking."

"Admiring its wondrousness," added Geoffrey.

"Why were you loading it into your boat then?"

"Only to look at it more closely! Listen, you've got it all back now haven't you, anyway, so could you ask your friend here to remove his teeth from my backside?  It's not like I'm going anywhere and he must be getting tired."

"I think he might be stuck," said Geoffrey.  "Perhaps I could attempt to prise the teeth apart using my zircon encrusted tweezers..."

"NO!  Don't touch the teeth!" said the biggest sheep.  All the other sheep murmured in an alarmed fashion, and huddled together.  I began to wonder if they were really as terrifying as their reputation and appearance would have it.

"Go ahead Geoffrey," I said. "Prise away."

"Do you think - "

"YES!  Just do it.  Else I won't be able to sit down for a fortnight. Oh!"

The sheep had let go of its own accord, and was rapidly backing away towards the others with its mouth firmly shut.

"Phew," I sighed. "What a relief.  Ouch!  Oh no.  It feels like they're still there.  This must be what it's like when you have a leg amputated.  Something like that anyway.  I must ask the T-G when we get back - IF we get back...Geoffrey, Geoffrey - is my bottom still there?  Has it been bitten off?  Has it been amputated like the T-G's leg?  Where is it?  How will I sit down? Sitting down's my favourite thing - what if I can never do it ever again?  Oh my GOOOODDDDD!!  Help me help me!"

"They ARE still there Tuppy.  The teeth.  AND your bottom.  Stop babbling.   Just stand still till I remove them.  Tuppy, I think that poor sheep was wearing false teeth.  Look!"  And he held a vast set of dentures aloft. "They appear to be made of wood.  I can see the grain beneath the yellow paint."

"I think they've ALL got false wooden teeth Geoffrey. Which implies that they aren't half as scary as they look.  Thank goodness.  In fact, they look like a bunch of wimps."

"Wimps like us Tuppy!  How marvellous!  I'm sure we'll all get along famously!"

"I wouldn't go that far myself, but I suppose some impoverished, half-witted souls -"

"Oh!  You're on about me again aren't you.  How cruel.  And to think I loaded all that treasure while you sat on your fat backside being the so-called look-out.  And look where that got us!  I'm upset now.  Especially since I removed the teeth and was sympathetic and everything."

" - might call it marvellous to have  few moments respite from worrying about ending up being simmered in a cooking pot with a couple of onions, a carrot, a squeeze of tomato puree and a bouquet garni.   The eyes are still pretty strange mind.  For my liking.  Did you say "fat backside?", you peevish creature?"

"I know!  Mine too!  I can't look at them for more than a second without feeling like I'm getting sucked into a vortex.  Yes I did and I'm not sorry.  You're an ungrateful sod and I wish I'd left those teeth where they were.  You'd have looked a right twit back at the Outcrop, with a set of teeth sticking out of your backside - which, by the way, is expanding by the second."

"Well!" I spluttered.  I hate spluttering, but sometimes I just can't help myself.  Although,  now I came to think of it,  I could feel something distinctly odd going on, behind...I tried to glance over my shoulder,  but I knew it was futile to try to see my own backside without the aid of two mirrors.  Which I didn't happen to have, on my person at the time.  Or indeed at any other time.  What kind of maniac goes around with two mirrors?  They just don't, do they?  And who can blame them?  They'd have to be unhinged.

"Please don't tell anyone," interrupted the biggest sheep,"We're supposed to terrorise anyone who comes looking for the treasure with our huge carnivore-style teeth, and if people think we've only got wooden ones they won't be frightened any more."

"What do you mean, you're 'supposed to'?  That implies that there's someone in charge - someone who's telling you what to do."

The sheep huddled together even more closely, and exchanged anxious glances.

"We need to get away from Frockall," bleated one of the smallest ones, "We're frightened.  Can you help us to escape please?"

"I'm sure you can," said another, whose eyes were twirling even more hypnotically than the others,"You're using words like "implied",  which implies that you must be clever enough to think of a way to help us..."

more later

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Local Countryside Today

hawthorn on oak tree 25/10/13 sea penguin

thru an oak tree 25/10/13 sea penguin

wild swans on stormont loch 25/10/13

Taken on a local walk this afternoon.  Migrating swans are always a favourite sight at this time of year.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

from the glack 24/10/13 sea penguin
Near home today

Who Gives a Rat's Ass?

I was just browsing through some of my back catalogue of about thirty stories on Shortbread Stories website, with a view to asking for most of them to be removed.

However, leaving the AWFUL early ones aside, they're mostly not as bad as I'd thought!  I hadn't read them for ages, so am quite surprised.  I'm happy with about half a dozen of the flash fictions (Uncle Charlie, Night Vision,  Stupid Stewart,  Krowley's Korner,  Lunch at the Cornerstone,  Festive Cheer at the German Market) and I like my Psychotweeter series, especially the more recent episodes, and Goats Head Soup. And Island of Mist will always be one of my favourites, despite the dreadful title.

But, so what?  Who gives a rat's ass?

Nobody, that's who.

If YOU give a rat's ass - yes, you, spammer from the Ukraine - you can find them all via the Shortbread Stories widget further down the page on the right hand side.

Now Reading....

...The Magician,  by Somerset Maugham.

I have a book of Maugham's short stories - sixty four of them - that I bought from a charity shop for a pound or something.  (A rare bargain) I've read about twenty so far, and there isn't one I haven't liked.

However, The Magician isn't grabbing me so far and I'm a little disappointed because I bought it NEW on the back of enjoying the stories so much and also because the central character was based on Aleister Crowley, whom my ancestor Hector Macdonald reputedly met in Paris shortly before shooting himself, and I was really looking forward to Maugham's "take".  The writing style is not as sharp as in the stories, I think, and, perhaps because it's an early work, the psychological observation not as acute - and overall I'm just not being swept along.
Mind you, I'm only on chapter two!
I will persevere.

Interesting to read for the first time by the way, two of his stories that were made into films that I know quite well.  The Letter,  which starred Bette Davis,  and Rain, which starred Joan Crawford.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Starlight on Seaweed

Starlight on Seaweed

Just wanted to have a link to this track, which is by a 1970s prog band called National Health, is available on an album called Missing Pieces, and was written by Mont Campbell of Egg.

I wish I'd thought of that title and used it for one of my stories.  (I might yet!)

We've Been Where Fancy's Taken Us - and now we're going home again (hopefully)

"Load it up Geoffrey.  Hurry!  The tide's about to turn."

"It would help if YOU helped, Tuppy. I can't manage all these bags of Spanish coin on my own."

"I AM helping.  I'm the look-out.  And if I help YOU,  I won't be able to see anything,  will I?  Just get on with it, will you?"

Fancy had taken us to the secret cave stuffed with treasure from a wrecked Spanish galleon (mentioned in a post last week.)  For days we had huddled in Fancy's bowels, surviving on a "sample" bag of dried cranberry and macadamia nut mix, three fun-sized flapjacks, and a flask of goji berry tea - all courtesy of Val Nark's table sale at last weekend's Harvest Home Festival.

We don't have a "church", Hereabouts, but Val and Dave felt that some sort of seasonal gesture would be nice, as well as being a good promotional tool for their ongoing yurt business.

"We're building a super-yurt next.  It'll be up and running for the start of the next tourist season," stated Dave, in his most irritating "I will not be denied" manner.

Naturally, that remains to be seen.  Or in other words,  NOT if we have anything to do with it.  Which we fully intend to ensure we do.  In every imaginable respect.  Especially if said respect involves large amounts of combustible material,  fire accelerant,  and a Zippo lighter.

"You shouldn't be taking samples," said Val, as we filled our duffel bags with flapjacks, goji berry tea, and anything else that was lying about. "You've tried everything.  You should be at the buying something stage by now."

"We just want to make sure that we like it all before making our minds up," said Geoffrey obsequiously, as he brushed a few macadamia nut crumbs off his waistcoat.

"Yes.  Times are hard and we can't afford to spend munny on stuff we aren't sure about,"  I added, through a mouthful of yogurt-covered dried fig and banana bar.

"Really." snapped Val.  "And since when did you two have a dog?"

We glanced at each other in astonishment.  "A dog?"

"Yes.  Those are organic vegan dog biscuits you're dunking in your samples of knotweed and dock leaf tisane."

Well we liked them.  But we thought perhaps best to leave Val to her rapidly-emptying stall, and her latest knitting project.

And so here we are on the far-flung outpost of Frockall,  loading our coracle with the treasure that we found at the bottom of the secret cave, and trying to avoid the attentions of the native cannibal sheep with orange wool...

"And truly massive incisors Tuppy.  Did you see the incisors Tuppy?  They're truly massive.  I saw the incisors Tuppy.  They're massive and they clearly belong to a serious meat-eating species."

Geoffrey was reading my mind again.  It's very annoying - although sometimes, very useful.

"Do stop panicking Geoffrey.  Have you finished packing the gold coin?  Oh I suppose that'll do.  We can always pop back for more.  Right.  Let's be off before  - aaaaaaaarrgghhh!!!!!!!!!!!"

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Friday, 18 October 2013

craig y barns 18/10/13 sea penguin

from craig y barns 18/10/13 by sea penguin

A local walk the other day.  Looking down the Tay valley to Dunkeld.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Sea Penguin Part Five just out on Kindle

My latest e-book is now available to buy on Amazon Kindle.  Sea Penguin Part Five:  Our Front Door.
I think it costs just under two quid.
Here is the link.

You can read the beginning for free.  As usual it's an edited series of blog posts, strung together in a kind of narrative.  It starts with Mrs T-G's Paris Diaries.  There's a bit about the Narks and a bit about the Kiltie Twins, and it doesn't really have an ending.  So I'll have to write Part Six I suppose.

There are illustrations throughout by Barry Nicol, as usual, and photographs taken by myself, mostly of the West Highlands.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sea Penguin Part Five on the way

It is in the publishing queue on Amazon.  I expect it will be available to buy tomorrow-ish.   Here is the cover meanwhile.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

One of Them

abandoned boat oban 2012 sea penguin
"Oh, Geoffrey.  What's the point? One travels only to arrive, and when one arrives, one simply wants to be off again.  Isn't it best for one simply to remain where one is, and wait for Death?"

I dropped my end of the coracle and sat down heavily on a sea-weed-covered rock.

"Pull yourself together Tuppy.  We're not on a pointless mission.  We're after a hoard of Spanish treasure, remember?  Look - I've painted FANCY on the bowsprit, so that we can truly say that we're going where Fancy takes us!"

I smiled weakly. "Thanks for making the effort,  Geoffrey."

Geoffrey blinked rapidly and preened himself.  "I knew you'd like it.  Perhaps as well as the treasure we'll get some of that orange wool off the indigenous sheep and get Mrs T-G to knit us jumpers when we get back.  She's got a new Acme Knit-o-matic knitting machine and is knitting loads of stuff, all the time.  Did you know that, Tuppy?  Did you know about her new Acme Knit-o-matic knitting machine, and that she's knitting loads of stuff, all the time?"

"No I didn't.  Stop babbling.  Now think.  Did you pack the blunderbuss?  Because honestly I'm not going one step further if not.   These orange sheep are cannibals, and in case you hadn't noticed, I'm One of Them.  I don't want to end up simmering in a pot at Gas Mark 3, with a Knorr stock cube, a glass of red wine, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, two onions, a carrot and a third cousin twice removed."

"I think it's in the carpet bag under the extra gelignite.  But more than likely you won't need it.  I'm sure you'll be welcomed with open arms Tuppy.  Come on now - the moon's up.  Let's catch the tide."


turtle by barry nicol all rights reserved sea penguin
"Get out there and DO IT Tuppy!  Come on - get up off your fat back-side and do some star jumps.  Healthy body healthy mind. UP UP UP!!!!  Get that blood pumping through those blocked arteries and flush out those fatty plaques before you develop clinical depression and slash or die of a massive myocardial infarction."

"No.  I've got stuff to do."

"What stuff?"

"Absolutely fuck all - and that's the way I like it.  Now fuck off."

"Did you know there is an island off the north coast of North Rona,  called Fuckall?  It has its own breed of indigenous sheep.  They have orange wool and are cannibals.  And there's an underground cave,  packed with treasure from a wrecked Spanish galleon, which lies undiscovered to this day."

"No, I didn't.  And neither does anyone else.  Stop making things up.  Wait a minute - did you say treasure?  Fetch the coracle Geoffrey, and fill the flask!  We're off to Fuckall on the next tide.  Let's follow the stars and see where fancy takes us."

Friday, 4 October 2013

Blog News, price increases - and my thoughts on e-publishing

sea penguin painting copyright barry nicol reproduced with permission
Going through all the Sea Penguin material from the last year or two I find I have enough for another two ebooks of about 20,000 words each.  I don't think there's any point in producing anything longer than 20,000 for an e-book - especially given the nature of the Sea Penguin tales.

So, Sea Penguins Five and Six are in the pipeline.

It may take me a while;  from 2008 till 2010/11 the blog was scrupulously well-organised, everything was labelled and dated, it had a kind of narrative drive, and therefore it was relatively easy to track things down and compile the first four ebooks.  However, after I shut it down for a while then savaged it and then salvaged the e-book material I became a lot less diligent and the whole thing has become, unfortunately, fairly messy.  It reminds me of the dog-eared pile of A4 notebooks languishing under my bed, actually.  And that's not nice.  I do hope to sort it out!
I'm spurred on by my feeling that the new e-books - well, one of them - will be the best yet.
Fiona Smith has just moved on from her post as editor of Shortbread Stories, and last week she paid me the compliment of saying that since 2008, which is when I began writing, I've gone from being a good writer to a "great writer".  (I think she meant "great" as in "better than I was".)  I HOPE Sea Penguin Five will reflect that.

I've over 30 stories on Shortbread Stories and I'm only really satisfied with about ten of them.  Now that I feel more sure of myself as a writer, I'm going to ask the new editor to remove some that I feel are especially bad.

Do excuse the dearth of new posts on here meanwhile.  It's a lot of work!

I've also put the prices of Sea Penguins One to Four back to their original £3 or thereabouts (it's converted from dollars by the Amazon system, and in the U.S. I'm charging $4.99), and I've decided I'm not keen on the Amazon free promotion system, either.  It's tempting to use it to give your ratings a boost, but after putting a lot of work into a book, why give it away for free?  Either people want to buy it, or not.  I've had hundreds of e-books downloaded for nothing, and no feedback whatsoever, so I'm fairly sure that in most of those cases people are simply looking for a freebie and then don't read it.  Or, they read it and don't like it.
My work is never going to be commercial, I'm not capable of historical romances, porn or cookery books (believe me, I'd do it if I could!), and I'd far rather have only a few genuine readers who are sufficiently interested to actually fork out a couple of pounds.
I've done an awful lot of writing for free for the past five years, which has been great practice and often very enjoyable. I don't mind continuing with a certain amount of that, but the whole Amazon situation is leaving me feeling quite ripped off, cheap, and feeling that by doing free promotions I'm not only undervaluing myself but am being unfair to readers who paid full price for the ebooks in the first place.
I'm still looking around for a way of publishing digitally that doesn't involve a massive juggernaut like Amazon or a website that's full of rubbish.  I could of course send my stuff away to a publisher, but that would involve the dismal prospect of waiting in a slush pile for months with, I'm fairly sure, no hope of success.
Ah well.  Sea Penguin Part Five rumbles ever nearer and it'll most likely appear along-side the others in due course, on Amazon.  I've got a good cover for it - Barry's art work, as usual.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Original Rocky Outcrop

I found this photo this afternoon when having a clear-out.  It's a copy that my parents ordered from Scottish Field magazine, back in the late 60s or early 70s I'm guessing.  I remember it hanging on our livingroom wall as a child.
It's taken from the McCrimmon Memorial,  Borreraig,  Isle of Skye, and the occasion was an anniversary, I think.  The McCrimmon Memorial is a large cairn which commemorates the great McCrimmon piping family and school.
The photographer was a George B. Alden,  I think, and copyright belongs to Scottish Field.  I haven't asked for permission to reproduce - am assuming that because the photo is so old, it might not matter...
The cottage in the background is my late great-aunt's.  Her sheep can be seen grazing around it.  At times one would wander inside.  The two dots on the far cliff are people - my great-aunt, and my cousin, I think.
The cottage no longer exists.  It's been completely remodelled and extended and turned into a very upmarket holiday let and artist's studio.
However,  the version pictured remains as the original inspiration for Sea Penguin and all related stories.
The view from the iron age Dun above and to the left of it is tremendous - right across Loch Dunvegan to the coral beaches, and across the Minch to the Outer Hebrides.  In the other direction are the Cuillins.