My Amazon Author Page

Find my Amazon author page via this link

"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."


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Today's Walk - Mill Dam, Perthshire

mill dam 27/2/14 sea penguin
Mill Dam

monster head seaa penguin 27/2/14
I always think this looks like a monster's head

burn sea penguin 27/2/14
Burn at The Glack

to loch of the lowes 27/2/14 sea penguin
Looking south towards Loch of the Lowes

A walk today which I know very well indeed.  To the Mill Dam, near Dunkeld in Perthshire.  I must have been there hundreds of times over the last twenty odd years.  It used to be a fairly dark walk up a forestry track, until you got to the open area round the Dam, but recently many of the forestry trees have been felled and it's a lot more open, albeit a bit Somme-like with tree stumps and rutted tracks and the general detritus and destruction left behind.  However, trees are already well on the way to regenerating the forests in places - not sure if they will stay there as they aren't native species.  I'm not sure what the forestry policy is regarding trees at the moment - I think they aim for a mix of native trees rather than the depressing blanket coverage of stifling sitka spruce favoured by them in the 60s and 70s.  They seem to be chopping a heck of a lot down, anyway.
It's often a good walk for seeing wildlife.  It's very unusual not to see red squirrels and roe and fallow deer.  However, today I saw none of those except for a few roe deer grazing in a field on my drive back.  I saw only a pair of buzzards displaying, a pair of swans on the far side of the Dam, and a couple of tufted duck.  There's usually a robin hopping about by the seat at the Dam, looking for crumbs from people's sandwiches, but even that wasn't around today.  Very quiet.  I look forward to going up there in a month or two when it is a brilliant place for seeing newts and frogs.  And by then of course, the ospreys will have arrived.  They fish regularly in the Dam during the summer months.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Now Reading/Writing News

I finished Gil Scott Heron's Memoir last night.  It's an entertaining and inspiring read and I'll dip into it again over the next few days, to have another look at the pages whose corners I folded down.  (Yes, I do that, I've always done that, and yes I am aware that it isn't big or clever.)
The book was edited posthumously in the main and after an intensely engaging beginning and middle it does rather fizzle out towards the end, and finishes abruptly.  There's an epilogue written by Jamie Byng that explains why, but nevertheless it left me with an Oh! is that it? feeling.   Slightly...disappointed, curious - lots of unanswered questions about his life.  I wonder if he regretted leaving his job as an English professor to pursue his musical path.  I wonder why he became estranged from his children.  I wonder if he burned out too young.  I wonder if there is a biography anywhere.  I will look.  Overall though its a very good read and I am left with a sense of respect and appreciation for the man and for the editors who put the book together.  And for the person who gave me the token which led me to that table in Waterstones St Andrews on which I found it.
My next read is one I'm very excited about.  A Liar's Autobiography by Graham Chapman.  I've been meaning to read it for ages.  It was a penny buy from Amazon (needs must) and I must say it's a bit on the manky side.  Good condition?  I think not.  I will demand my penny
Another penny buy, this time brand spanking new, is Hazlitt's On the Pleasure of Hating.  I haven't read Hazlitt before but I generally really enjoy books from around that era - Wollstonecraft,  Shelley, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt (Byron's Wit in the Dungeon) and so forth.  I've dipped into its pristine white pages with my stubby, grubby, chocolate biscuit-y fingers since it arrived the other day and it looks brilliant - can't wait to get stuck into it.
On the writing front,  I'm working on three or four different things at the moment, most of which I hope to submit to publications.  I log on to Shortbread Stories more frequently these days but somehow it feels a bit wrong to have returned, I feel it isn't perhaps the place for me any more, I'm not that inclined to submit much there in terms of work, at the moment anyway, and I feel a bit of a clot really, for trying to participate in a place that has clearly moved on (or perhaps I have...), so I'm not sure how I will proceed from here.  Never go back - a dictum I have ignored at various times in life, and it has rarely worked out well.  (I must find out what that is, in Latin.   Nil returnabat, or something*. )I will continue to fundraise via e-book sales till Easter, as promised, in any event.  And I'll probably continue to produce and submit Psychotweeters, when they occur to me.
*it's 'redeundum' by the way.  Thanks, Google.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Today's Walk - Rumbling Bridge

braan 20/02/14 sea penguin
The Braan by Rumbling Bridge

rumbling bridge 20/02/14 sea penguin
From the viewpoint

braan 2 sea penguin 20/02/14
Looking up river from the bridge

catkins 20/02/14 sea penguin
Catkins by the river

A short walk on a lovely Spring-like day to Rumbling Bridge, near Dunkeld.  About three miles up the A822 after you turn left off the A9 heading north.  It's a popular spot. Like most locals I've been there many times over the years and usually walk through from the Hermitage.  However I was short of time today so just drove to the car park and tottered the hundred or so yards to have a look at the river, which was in spate after heavy rain and a snow melt.
This is where Millais painted his famous The Sound of Many Waters 'en plein air' as was his habit in Perthshire.  I don't think the place has changed much since his day.  The picture is now in Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire, and I went to see it several years ago.  It's been done up a bit by the National Trust, but Fyvie is still a creepy place, well worth a visit.  

Getting it Worng/Bitchin' Kitchin.

'Mind?  Mind?  We're all going to Die!  Of course I mind!'
'No Tuppy.  You've got it all wrong.'
'What do you mean,  got it worng?  I'm not insane!'
Yes, it was one of Those conversations.  Me and the T-G, by the fire, late at night, bit tetchy.  Bit low on the old driftwood.  Drunk ourselves sober with a bitchin' head.
'I'll think you'll find that you are.  Insane.  Completely,  totally, and utterly.  And it's WRONG, not Worng.'
'Oh, chop one of your wooden legs off and chuck it on the fire.  I'm freezing.'
'No?  You selfish bastard.'
'Fancy a bacon sandwich?'
'Go on then.'
'I suppose I'd better not burn a leg then, else I won't be able to make it through to the kitchen.'
'I suppose we have a choice then, don't we.  Warmth, or a bacon sandwich.'
'This is what it boils down to, yes.  Or, to what it boils down.  Or whatever.'
'Such is life.'
'So it would seem.'
'Or sew it wood seam, if you're being choosy.'
'All right, that is enough.  I'm going to sleep now.'

The Lost Fairy Tunes from Long Ago (not)

Writing is for me an escape from the every day.  It's a retreat from the norm.  It's a means of transcending if you like.  It takes me away from the daily grind of cobbling the finances together and can we manage this and can we manage that and getting old and fretting about death and all manner of possible illnesses in myself and loved ones.  It's a means of making sense of my life and re-making things as they might have been, could have been, should have been, should not have been, and certainly never were and thank goodness for it.
It's also a craft and a skill, to be worked at and improved.  Sometimes, it's about scratching an itch or lancing a boil and letting the poison out to I Know Not Where but can hazard a guess.  Mainly, it's about the spirit, about finding the music that eludes me - the lost fairy tunes from long ago, smoke rings vanishing in the cool night air.  The hum of bees buzzing on tea roses outside an open window, and the smell of furniture polish.  Butter sliding over home-grown potatoes, with mint....a fire crackling in the grate.
My life's not like that.  If it were, I'd be Joanna Trollope.
There's a shadow outside the window that scares me, there's never enough coal, the grate needs cleaning and I cannot be arsed.
Other than that, it's all fine and dandy.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Two further book purchases, this time for a penny each on Amazon I'm afraid. If there were any second hand bookshops left near at hand I'd definitely prefer to use them, but as it is on a very tight budget it's very tempting to go for the penny deals.
I have bought On the Pleasure of Hating by William Hazlitt, and A Liar's Autobiography by Graham Chapman.  Both I think will be completely excellent, and I will blog about them as and when.
I haven't read any Hazlitt, so I'm especially looking forward to that.  He's from the Coleridge era, which is one of my favourites.
copyright kate smart sea penguin
The cover of my forthcoming e-book
Here is a sneak preview of the fabulous cover which I have designed for my sixth e-book.  I did it All By Myself - hard to believe, I know - and it took me AGES.
I just need to think of an ending and format it and it'll be all fine and dandy.

Gil Scott-Heron - 'Where Did The Night Go'

Gil Scott-Heron - 'I'm New Here' (official video)

'I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.'

Now Reading...Gil Scott Heron's 'The Last Holiday'

As expected when I bought the book in St Andrews last week and contrary to my suspicions after leafing quickly through it (as you do) as soon as I got it home, I am enjoying 'The Last Holiday - A Memoir'.
I've reached the part where he mentions his dad, Gilbert St Elmo Heron, being 'discovered' by the Scottish football team (I'm saying nothing) and then going over to Scotland to play for Celtic where he did fabulously well and became known as, I gather from Wiki, The Black Flash.  From this side of the Atlantic a tale that has slipped into urban myth and folk memorabilia status.  It was then that young Gil went to Jackson to live with his gran.  I've left him there for now.
I'm still rather dreading the part where he seems to morph into the ambitious and rather horribly 'hip' English might be OK.....I hope.... I hope.....*thinks, don't let me down - pleeeze.....*

In the mean-time here is a quote from the intro that I really liked.
'We all need to see folks reach beyond what looks possible and make it happen.  We need more examples of how to make it happen.  We will all face difficult circumstances along the way that will challenge our self-confidence and try to disrupt our decisions about the directions we wish to choose.  I hope this book will remind you that you can succeed, that help can arrive from unexpected quarters at times that are crucial.'
I do feel that at my time of life quotes like that are a bit pointless.  I'm well past the age when 'success' might happen.  I stumble along hoping for the best i.e. hoping that I can pay my mortgage and my next leccy bill, and maybe get a couple of beers in now and then.  But I wish I'd had more faith in myself when I was young, and I do love to see 'the young making a go of things'.
Do not let the bastards grind you down.  EVER.   Unless it can't be avoided of course. Life isn't easy and sometimes there's nothing for it but to hide behind the largest sofa around (try DFS) until you feel it's safe to come out....

Fundraising for Shortbread Stories

I have about thirty stories on Dundee-based website Shortbread Stories and they can all be read via the widget on the right hand side of the page.  Here is a link to my profile page on the site as well.
I've been involved with the site as a contributor on and off since it began about five or six years ago.  I've always liked the site, it's easy to use and non-threatening.  The only problem is, I wish it would raise its game and show off some of the really good writing that is on there.  It's expanded so much (about 20,000 members now I think) and has such a vast back catalogue of mostly completely unedited work, that the quality stuff gets lost.  
The site was founded by Robin Pilcher who set it up and funded it himself for the first few years;  however a couple of years ago it moved from private ownership to charitable status and it is currently run on a voluntary basis solely by Rachel Marsh with a 'silent partner' who seems to do absolutely nothing.  They have no money at all, apparently.
Everyone involved with the site can see it needs a complete re-vamp.  There are loads of very annoying glitches and it's unbelievably slow.  There is no technical support on offer, at all, which is extremely frustrating for users.  Obviously they can't do anything about this until they get some money together.
I think they are hopeful of securing long term funding, somehow, and they do have 'plans', but in the meantime I and a couple of others have offered to donate any profits from e-book sales to Shortbread Stories on a time-limited basis.  I've said I'll donate mine from now till Easter, simply because my sales are non-existent and perhaps a fairly long stretch of time will at least produce Something.  A week or two would be pointless.
To be honest I've no idea where the site is going, but I feel it's a worthwhile enterprise which gives people who enjoy writing but who probably will never, ever get a publishing deal, a place to put their work and maybe, just maybe, improve.   In addition to those there is genuinely an awful lot of good writing which deserves to be in a book or a compilation or Something other than the back end of a very large and creaky website, and I think that perhaps a new anthology might be on the way.  One of my stories (my only children's story)  is in the first one, which can still be purchased for £5.99 via the website link above - it's on the front page, where I am, incidentally, described as 'our lovely Kate Smart'. It doesn't happen often so I'll enjoy the moment.

Here is a link to my Amazon UK page where all my e-books can be found, and here is a link to Amazon US.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

New E-book on the way

I have a sixth e-book nearly finished.  It's very short, only 4,500 words or so, but too long I think to put on the blog.  I might try it on Storify if I can figure out how to do it.  Or I might just Kindle it like the others.
It's a Tuppy and Geoffrey tale, adapted from the blog.  Encouraged by Barry, who has done most of the paintings for the blog and e-books, I'm doing the illustrations myself, a la Clint Clanton.  So it will be interesting ( for me!).

Here is a link to my Amazon page.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Today's Walk. St Andrews, Camus and Gil Scott Heron.

A day out to St Andrews today.  Bright sunshine and bookshop vouchers to spend. And a walk along the beach, of course.
I'm looking forward to reading both my purchases.  Camus' The Sea Close By caught my eye at the till.  Sort of the bookshop equivalent of sweeties in Tesco.  I've read a fair bit of Camus but not this.  It looks good.  "Finally they call upon me to tell them who I am.  'Nothing yet, nothing yet...'"  And I bought Gil Scott-Heron's The Last Holiday - A Memoir.  I fully expected to like it but having had a quick flick through it I'm not so sure.  There seems to be a lot of stuff about being an ambitious writing professor, which is not at all what I envisaged.  I'll read it though, and see.
St Andrews is an odd town, full of students and studenty places and golfing fanatics and golfery places, but with a feeling that there is a less privileged side lurking around too.  Nice to wander through on foot, not nice at all to drive in.  Or rather, to find a parking space in.  Not too bad at this time of year though, as the beach car park is free till March.  The beach is vast.  It's good to walk along at low tide despite the inevitability of that Chariots of Fire music ringing in your head.  There are generally quite a lot of people on it but it's so big you hardly notice.  People walk their dogs, jog, fly kites, play rounders, windsurf.  There are other, prettier beaches in Fife but this one is so iconic it's always worth a visit.

st andrews sea penguin 7/2/14
Enjoying the vastness of St Andrews beach

f & D window sea penguin 7/2/14
If you're a fan of cakes & pastries Fisher & Donaldson, bakers, is for you.

bookshop books sea penguin 7/2/14
My bookshop buys

Rook sea penguin 7/2/14
A random rook at the car park

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A couple of jottings on Oban, Staffa and RL Stevenson

Serendipity or what.  I had just finished the post below when up popped this item on my Twitter timeline.  It's a very interesting link to a letter written by RL Stevenson  during a trip to Erraid, via Oban,  Staffa and Iona.  Numerous illustrations, and of particular interest to me, a video of the relatively recent demolition of the Argyll Hotel, Oban, where Stevenson, according to his letter, had a rather dreadful meal;  apparently 'herrings in a state of mash, and potatoes like iron'.  He was 20 years old at the time and his young man's energy and zest for life shine through in quite an endearing way.
I have several photos of the old Argyll Hotel pre-demolition which I took a year or two ago with a view to them fitting in with the Sea Penguin tales. I was taken by its 18th century, olde worlde, sea-faring-style appearance, and I also remember the bar upstairs very well from a trip I made there in 1986.  I think I might also have a photograph of it from that time, but it's goodness knows where.  I'm sure they have kept the corner of the building where the bar was.  It would have been terrible to lose that as well as the rest.  I have had a story about that trip half-written for about five years!  I began re-writing it a month or so ago and I intend finishing it soon-ish.  I've made three trips to Staffa; all have been memorable for one reason or another - and none because of the undoubtedly amazing basalt pillars and booming cave.
the argyll hotel, oban sea penguin
The former Argyll Hotel,  Oban, where RL Stevenson once stayed - now demolished

argyll hotel 2 sea penguin
Another of the former Argyll Hotel, complete with Jubilee bunting

menu board argyll hotel sea penguin
Old menu board,  Argyll Hotel

oban at night sea penguin
Oban at night a year or two ago.  Stevenson describes a similar scene - albeit without the Calmac ferry terminal

inn sign sea penguin
The Harbour Inn, opposite the Argyll Hotel

trtan tavern, oban sea penguin
The Tartan Tavern, Oban.  Last time I was there it had shut down.

sea spray sea penguin
Sea spray from the Oban to Lismore ferry

Strange Bedfellows? Not really. Now Reading - RL Stevenson and Somerset Maugham.

the cover of dr jekyll & mr hyde, wordsworth press edition
Cover illustration on this Wordsworth Press edition by Nathan Clair
I'm presently reading Robert Louis Stevenson's tale The Merry Men.  It's in an edition that includes Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde along with some other stories.
A few thoughts occurred to me just now.  Stevenson is one of my favourite writers (one of his quotes is at the top of the blog - it's from Treasure Island).   I don't read much, if any, contemporary fiction.  There is so much to  discover in the past.   For example,  I continue to dip in and out of the massive volume of Somerset Maugham short stories that I mentioned some time ago.  There's only one out of the forty or so that I've read so far that I haven't enjoyed.
It strikes me that Stevenson and Maugham are both consummate story tellers.  That's a gift and it cannot be taught.  Rather, it can be fined to an art through practice.  I've read early Maugham and he definitely improved - like polishing good silver. Stevenson was different - he was a genius who hit the ground running.  He didn't really need to practise - it was all there.   Stevenson spins yarns. He had what I think of as a musical imagination.  It sings to you, of the sea and glinting pewter mugs and shafts of sunlight and shipwrecks and the ruby glow of claret by a driftwood fire and all manner of wondrous things, with never a jarring note.  Maugham on the other hand is a society gossip.  You can imagine sitting with him on a chintz sofa by a country house fire or in a slightly decadent art deco London flat, smoking a cigarette and sipping cocktails, riveted by his tales of this person and that. His character sketches are supreme, and his plots are elegant.  He is a master, an absolute master.
What has occurred to me through reading them is this.   One must as a writer progress from the stage of spewing forth one's own 'shit'.  If you want to produce anything decent you have to realise when you're doing that, and STOP.  You have to start Making Stuff Up.  By all means use your 'shit' as fertiliser - but that is all it should be.
I should say something about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde now, shouldn't I - although I think there's little I can add to the screeds of academic treatises and analyses, the pastiches, the parodies, the rip-offs and goodness knows what all that have spiralled out from what is a very short tale.  There's been so much written about it and so many films that it's taken me - a Stevenson fan - till middle age to actually read the actual book.
It didn't fail me.  It's a marvellous tale, different to any of the films I've seen.  Two things struck me in particular. One is that Jekyll is arguably, or on second thoughts definitely, the real villain.  Or is he?  That is something I will enjoy puzzling over. The other is the detail of the sizing of the clothes, which I don't think is mentioned in any of the films I've seen - Hyde is much smaller physically than Jekyll, and each time a transformation takes place he must change into new clothes.  Once the involuntary transformations begin to occur, he has a problem and ends up shuffling through the streets with trousers that are much too long - sort of the Incredible Hulk in reverse.