Tuesday, December 31, 2013

So that was 2013

Cross-posting from over at jamesoswald.co.uk because I'm lazy...

I don't think I've ever done a review of the year before. Mostly it's been about tying up loose ends before saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new. But 2013 has been such a ride, I feel it needs looking back at, just to be sure it really happened.

2012 was itself fairly momentous, going as it did from just about to give up writing and become a farmer full time, to best selling self-published author, to three book deal with one of the UK's biggest publishers and half a dozen foreign rights sold. 2013 was where it all started to kick off, though.

Natural Causes German Edition

First came the news that Natural Causes had been selected as a Richard and Judy Book Club Summer Read. I was whisked off down to London to meet the two of them - a somewhat surreal experience, but enjoyable nonetheless. Then the book actually came out, and started selling in astonishing numbers. And as if that wasn't enough, it ended up being voted reader favourite. Not a bad start at all.

The press had got a hold of my unusual story and seemed keen to run with it, which meant long articles in the Times and the Telegraph - as well as shorter pieces in most of the tabloids - that any debut author would sell his soul for. The farming press has been very kind to me too, especially when it got out that I'd used my first advance to buy a shiny new tractor.


Being a published author seems to mean that people want me to talk at them, and possibly sign things. I'm not used to the limelight, but I've done my best. Events this year kicked off with the launches for Natural Causes and then The Book of Souls, both ably compered by my good chum Russel D McLean (whose Dundee-based PI thrillers you should all read).

I've talked at people in Kirkwall, Inverurie, Dundee (twice),  Ayr, Edinburgh (twice), Perth, Stirling, St Andrews and Glenrothes (oh, the glamour!). I've even had a nice conversation with Russel in a castle in Aberdeenshire, evesdropped by a couple of bemused passers-by and most of the staff running the place. I've lost count of the radio interviews I've given (tosses head nonchalantly), although the most fun so far was doing Loose Ends on Radio 4. Surreal moment of the year number one has to be sitting in a London pub after the recording, talking about Highland Cattle with Clive Anderson. (He has a farm in Argyllshire the land of which he rents out to a local farmer, and he would love to have Highlands grazing it.) In between all this, I've been to pretty much every Waterstones and WH Smiths in the central belt to sign stock, as well as making a trip up to Aberdeen to spend the day in my old chum Mike's comic shop, where I managed to sell about forty books!

I was filmed for a short piece on my self-publishing success last year, but the BBC were obviously impressed enough to come and interview me again for Reporting Scotland as I was about to launch Natural Causes back in May. My rabbit-in-the-headlights stare might have had something to do with my not realising until it happened that it was going out live on the evening news, nationwide. That and the fact that it was the middle of lambing and I'd not slept more than a couple of hours straight in the previous three weeks. April and May are not easy months for a livestock farmer; a fact I hope my publisher has now taken on board.

August isn't so bad though, and that was when Landward, the BBC Scotland rural affairs programme, came out to film me and my sheep and cows. The weather gods were kind, and we spent a fun three hours filming what would edit down to a ten minute slot when it aired in October. What next? Countryfile?

The publicity side of being an author has been more demanding than I imagined, but none of it onerous. Having spent twenty years and more writing essentially for myself (and occasionally Mr Stuart), there's something very heart-warming about people being interested in you and your writing. It doesn't always work - the  nice lady in St Andrews I tried to persuade to buy my books was very firm in her refusal, and quite happy to tell me why she hadn't liked the first one - but by and large people have been very positive.

Interviewers always ask about how you felt when you first saw your book on the shelves in a shop, or when you held your first copy in your hands. On the shelves is a bit of a mixed feeling - there are so many other books there! The first time I saw Natural Causes and opened it up, I discovered a rather alarming error (rapidly corrected by my publishers, I'm happy to report) that may have rather spoiled that moment for me. The best feeling of all, however, was when I got onto the train at Kings Cross on my way home after yet another round of interviews, and saw that the lady sitting across the aisle from me was reading my book. Spotting one in the wild is the best feeling ever.

Of course, then I had to decide whether to introduce myself to her or not. What if she hated it, and then spent the rest of the journey to Edinburgh glaring at me? I asked Twitter, but the responses were evenly balanced either way.

Then, somewhere around Peterborough, she finished it, and immediately passed it across the table to her husband, with a 'here, you can read it now.' Taking my life in my hands, I apologised for interrupting her, and asked 'Did you enjoy that?' - figuring that if she said no, then I could always claim a friend had recommended it and now I wouldn't bother.

She said that yes, she had. So I introduced myself, much to her and her husband's delight. We chatted on and off for most of the journey (which rather scuppered my plans for writing), and I ended up signing the book for them.

I'd delivered the third Inspector McLean book, The Hangman's Song, in early January, thus fulfilling that contract. It wasn't enough for my publishers though, who were hungry for more. Thanks to the awesome negotiation skills of my lovely agent, Juliet Mushens, I signed a deal for three more in the series, with the ambitious target of delivering one every six months. The first draft of book four is now done, although as yet it lacks a title. I'll be starting on book five in the new year, and already know what happens at the end of book six. Where McLean goes after that is up in the air.

The Hangman's Song by James Oswald

The Book of Souls came out in early July, and in its first full week of sales made the Sunday Times top ten. That was another of those somewhat surreal moments. I still find it hard to believe that these books which I wrote seven or eight years ago and had pretty much given up on, have now sold more than half a million copies in print and digital combined.

The second half of 2013 has been mostly about running around like a blue-arsed fly, writing book four, planning books five and six, and trying to adjust the farming system to allow me more time away. Oh yes, and building work has started on the house - one more task to add to the list.

The last week of November was especially busy. It started off with the first ever Iceland Noir, which was a wonderful excuse to go back to Reykjavik (and claim it on expenses). This was my idea of a perfect crime fiction convention - small, friendly and informal. I'm already making plans to go back next year. I got home to a series of back to back events for Book Week Scotland which were fun, but exhausting.

Things have been moving on the fantasy front, too. I was always keen to try and sell my epic dragon fantasy, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, and after some good-natured negotiations, Penguin have picked up the worldwide rights to that series too. The first three are already out there as ebooks, and Dreamwalker will be coming out in print in Autumn 2014, hopefully just in time for all the fantasy and SF cons - any excuse for a party.

The deal was announced just before World Fantasy Con in Brighton, which I went to as one of eleven (or was it twelve?) of Juliet's authors in attendance. The con was great fun, I think despite rather than because of the WFC committee. I will say no more about that, except to once more thank Lou Morgan, Jen Williams, Andrew Reid and all the other redcoats who basically made the whole thing work. You guys rock.

It was at WFC that I learnt that I'd been short-listed for the National Book Awards New Writer of the Year award - perhaps the icing on a particularly tasty cake of a year (mmm cake). Being a farmer, the full import of this news didn't really sink in. Fortunately Juliet was there to get overexcited on my behalf.

I went down to London in mid-December to attend the award ceremony and The Agency Group Christmas Party the next day. I didn't win the award, but just being short-listed was awesome enough. And I got to wear my kilt in London, which is always amusing. Just a shame that the hotel I was staying in put me in a room right below the air conditioning condensers for the whole building.

Around about the same time, I received my free copies of the Czech language translation of Natural Causes. They look amazing, but I've no idea whether or not they are any good. Fortunately a friend of a friend is a Czech speaker, so I've sent them a copy. Hopefully the feedback will be fine.

Natural Causes in Czech!

I was recently asked to write a piece for The Big Issue about my favourite books of the year - something to tie in with being shortlisted for the National Book Awards. I duly sat down and started to list them, only to discover on checking that most of them I'd read in 2012. Sadly it seems that the one thing that has fallen by the wayside in this most busy year of my life has been reading. My to be read pile is growing all the time, augmented by an alarming number of ARCs that are being sent my way in the hope that I might have time to read them and then write something nice. Since I get to read for about half an hour before conking out each night, and quite often that's reading my own manuscripts for rewrites, the list of actual books I read this year is rather pathetically small. I've barely watched any television at all this year, and only been to a couple of movies and gigs.

So what of 2014? Well, it doesn't look like it's going to be any less busy. The Hangman's Song comes out in February, and I've no doubt there'll be some publicity stuff I have to do for that. Book four is scheduled for July/August, and Dreamwalker will be out later on in the year. Meanwhile there's the small matter of writing McLean books four and five and getting started on The Ballad of Sir Benfro book four - The Broken World. I suspect there'll be a lot of editing and rewriting going on as well. Pity it's not a leap year - I could do with that extra day.

The farm is beginning to come together too, with livestock reaching maturity and being sold, and the Highland fold and Romney flock growing in number. I've got help now, and a network of local contractors I can call on when I need to be elsewhere. It's not quite how I envisaged running the place when I took it on, but I'm not complaining.

And there's the house build. I hope to have phase one habitable by the spring, which means I can move out of the caravan (and finally have a bath!). Phase two may take a little longer to get started, but it would be nice to have it wind and watertight by the end of the year. The writing comes first, though. For the first time in years I'm really enjoying it, even with the ludicrous workload and tight deadlines. Who knows, things might go tits up in a spectacular fashion next year. I hope not, obviously, but really I don't care. 2013 has been amazing, and I'm happy with that.

And since we must have lists:

My top three albums of the year -
Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit

Theatre is Evil by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra

Dear River by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

My top three books of the year -
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Poison/Charm/Beauty by Sarah Pinborough

Long Way Home by Eva Dolan (I know, technically it doesn't come out until 2014 - bite me.)

Bear in mind that if you ask me to list my three favourites again in five minutes time, I'll pick something different. These are all great, though.

So that's it, my round up of the year. A Happy New Year to you all, and may 2014 be at least half as good for you as 2013 was for me.

Bums! Bums!

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Team Mushens WFC2013 Halloween Short Story Bonanza - Job

I blame Andrew Reid. He's the one who came up with the idea.

Later on this week it's World Fantasy Con in Brighton, and eleven (say it like Burnistoun - Eleven) of Literary Agent Extraordinaire Juliet Mushens' clients will be in attendance. I am proud to count myself amongst them.

As well as being World Fantasy Con, it's also Halloween. Or All Hallows Eve as us older folks remember it. And so back to Andrew, who thought it might be a good idea for us all to write a spooky short story in celebration.

I wasn't going to do it. McLean book four is in the final stages of first draft, I've got page proofs of The Hangman's Song to work through, I'm still trying to run a farm and, best of all, I've broken my foot. It occurred to me, however, as I was staring absentmindedly at the cattle shed wall the other day, that I've already written a few spooky short stories and barely anyone's read any of them.

Even better, one of them is set in the depths of winter. OK, so it's just after Christmas and not Halloween, but hey, it'll do. So, without much further preamble, I'll present to you Job (that's pronounced the biblical way, not as in employment).

I can't remember what the genesis of this short story was. I wrote it sometime in early 2005, or perhaps late 2004 given the winter setting, when I was exploring the possibility of resurrecting an old comics character I'd first written in the early nineties. Tony McLean's been around a long time...


If you enjoyed that, there's a few more McLean shorts over at my other place, along with some more goodies. Be warned though, I'm on record as describing it as where my writing goes to die. Quality may vary, and some of those stories were written when I was young and impressionable.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


They say trouble comes in threes. I'm not sure who they are, and if I ever find out I'll probably punch them on the nose, but they appear to be right, at least this time.

A little history. Almost three years ago now, I moved up to Fife to take over the farm, leaving the Horse Doctor behind. This wasn't some callous act on my part, it was just that she had a good job there and we had a house that needed selling. The plan was for her to apply for work up here, continue to live in the house and show prospective purchasers around, and then move north once the sale was done. Six months, we thought. Ten, tops.

How wrong we were.

The Horse Doctor worked for the Welsh Assembly Government at the time, and we hoped there might be the possibility for an internal civil service transfer to something similar in Scotland. This would have been easy before devolution, but now doesn't happen. Jobs in this austerity time are few and far between for someone with the Horse Doctor's unique set of skills. She's had a few interviews, but nothing materialised.

No one wanted to buy the house either, it would seem. I'd have put it down to us asking too much - although we pitched it at the average of several Estate Agents' recommendations - were it not for the fact that all the other houses for sale in the area have been sticking like chewing gum to the bottom of your shoe. Our lovely part of Wales is just too far outside the ever-shrinking Aberystwyth commuter circle, and the downsizers from England have all but disappeared. In the three years the house has been on the market it's been viewed five times. None of those have been in the last eighteen months.

What has happened in the last eighteen months is my going from unpublished to self published to best selling author. This awesome (and very tiring) roller coaster ride has had many plus points to it, one of the better being enough money to employ the Horse Doctor as my PA. Technically she's going to be running the farm, but she'll also be managing the house build and generally making it so that I can write, write and write some more, freed from the endless hassles and worries that have been plaguing me.

At least that's the idea. It will probably work out differently.

It does mean that finally, after almost three years of living four hundred miles apart and only seeing each other for a few days each month or so, we're going to be back together. Hooray!

And so to the point of this post, the troubles coming in threes.

The house in Wales is being let for the timebeing, so I hired a 7.5 tonne truck and drove it down there on Monday. On Tuesday a couple of very good friends helped me load it up, and that's when the first bad luck struck. Stepping aside as a heavy item was carried past me, my foot slipped off a wet concrete step and something inside it went crack. It wasn't too painful at first, so I carried on loading. There wasn't much else I could do. When I looked at it later in the evening, there wasn't much swelling and it hadn't turned black, so I thought all was well. It was painful to walk on, but lying down was fine.

Not so good the next morning. As soon as I tried to put weight on it I knew there was a problem. Fortunately it was my clutch foot, so to speak. I could, with some help from my old friend Ibuprofen and Codeine, operate the clutch to change gear on the truck. Had it been the other foot, the accelerator foot, then I would have been stuck in Wales.

I set off yesterday at half past eight. It was uncomfortable, but by the time I reached Chester and the dual carriageway, I was getting used to the pain. I was trying not to think too hard about the fact that I had to unload everything that night once I arrived back at the farm. My brother was there to help, after all.

Make Room! Make Room!

The next thing to go wrong was small, really. I stopped at Westmoreland for a pee and something to eat. This was the first time I'd had internet access for a couple of days too, so I checked my email and did a few other things. I bought myself a large latte, and sat in the cab tweeting about my sore foot. Then the truck parked next to me tried to move off, but couldn't turn without hitting me. Being a helpful fellow, I immediately went to reverse a bit and give him enough room. In doing so, I knocked the coffee over, spreading milky goodness all over the floor of the cab. Ah well, at least it was a rental...

I couldn't be bothered buying another coffee after that. I was tired and sore and grumpy and just wanted to get home. So I set off perhaps twenty minutes earlier than if I hadn't made the mess. Note that twenty minutes, dear reader. It's important.

The journey was uneventful between Westmoreland and Carlisle. It was intermittently windy and wet, but the truck drove well. Then just as I was heading towards Todhills on south bank of the Eden, a VOSA Inspector's car pulled over in front of me and flashed on it's little rooftop sign, the LED lights telling me to follow. 

I'm a law-abiding fellow, so I did as I was told. We went into the HGV inspection centre nearby and I was made to drive the truck over the weighbridge. It had looked 'a little heavy at the back end' according to the man. 

This truck is rated to a gross weight of 7.5 tonnes. It was actually 8.64 tonnes. Oops.

At first I thought it was all the Horse Doctor's trees - about fifteen of them in big pots, probably weighing upwards of 70 kilos each. They were all at the back of the truck - put in after we'd fitted all the house stuff in. The nice man from VOSA gave me the number of a local haulier who would, for a fee, take my excess weight off me and deliver it to Fife. Unfortunately removing the trees still left us 350 kilos overweight, and worse the weight was now all on the front of the vehicle.

Another round of dieting shaved things down to 7.45 tonnes, but again there was too much to the front. I had to unpack stuff that had been very carefully arranged so as not to tumble everywhere when going around roundabouts, and move it into a big pile at the back of the truck. Still, eventually I passed the test and was allowed onwards. The whole fiasco took over three hours and has cost me, so far, £250.

If I'd not knocked over that coffee, I'd have been twenty minutes later past the spot where the VOSA Inspector noticed me. Chances are he wouldn't have been there then, and I'd have gone on oblivious to the motoring laws I was breaking. I'd probably have made it home safely - the truck was driving fine and whilst it felt heavier than when empty it was nothing like as bad as my mother's old horse box. Such is life, I guess. It was my fault, so I can't blame anyone else. I could have been fined £1 for every excess kilo, but was let off with a caution. 

I didn't get back to Fife until half past nine last night, fully thirteen hours after leaving the house in Wales. Between Stirling and home there were three separate diversions in operation - I dread to think what it all did to my blood pressure. At least my brother was there to help unload, as was the very helpful driver who'd brought the trees and a few other things up for me. Unfortunately we had to leave some stuff in Carlisle, so soon someone's going to have to go down and get that. 

Not me though. After the stress of the drive and studiously ignoring my foot, today it's agony with every step. No obvious swelling or bruising, which makes me suspect something really is broken within. There are many, many little bones in the foot and I've broken them before now. An X-ray will tell me whether that's the case, but I need to go and see the doctor first. Joy.

At least they didn't seem to notice the overpowering smell of coffee permeating the cab of the truck when they took it away first thing this morning. That, of course, was the reason everything had to be unloaded last night.

Back in the summer, when I made it, the plan to go and fetch all our stuff from the house in Wales seemed like a perfectly reasonable one. The days were long and dry, and I didn't have a deadline for one novel closing in whilst trying to do page proofs for another. 

If I could go back in time a few months I think I would slap myself for being such an idiot.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Killing Time

It's been far too long since I've posted anything here. I expect no one looks any more, and the RSS Readers will probably have given up too. The problem is, life got just too busy to blog.

I've started about a dozen posts in the last three months. Subjects ranging from my sudden and meteoric rise to fame as a writer of grisly crime novels to ruminations on the success of LambCam. Each time I've run out of enthusiasm for the subject, or time to finish it, or both.

But now I have something to blog about, and I'm going to get it done and posted before logging off. For today I took two steers to the abattoir in Perth. Yes, today I finally sold some produce from the farm.

When I bought the cows that would become the nucleus of the Fliskmillan Fold, six of them came with calves at foot, ranging in age from one to three months when they arrived. Of these six, one was pure, pedigree Highland - Eleanor of Woodneuk. This year Eleanor has been running with the bull, Fergus, and hopefully will produce something small and fluffy next spring.
Eleanor, taking it easy.

The other five calves were all Highland crossed to a Beef Shorthorn bull. This gives a bigger cow, faster growing and so worth more when it comes time to sell. Two of the five were heifers, and I sold them as breeding stock at auction late last year. The remaining three were steers - castrated males. They were housed over winter, partly to keep Fergus the bull company, partly so I could feed them up. Come the spring, they were turned out onto the lower hill, and there they have stayed, eating grass and shitting everywhere.
This little piggycow-kitten went to market

I brought them back down to the shed on Tuesday, separated the youngest from his two half-brothers and chucked him in a field along with the tups. His fate will come in a month's time. This morning, I loaded the other two into the trailer and took them to the abattoir. By the time you read this they will have been killed, gutted, skinned, their specified bovine offal removed for safe disposal, their meat inspected, hopefully given a stamp of approval, and their carcasses will be in the chill store, maturing.

This little piggycow-kitten also went to market
Some people might find this harsh, particularly posting photos of them when they were just a few months old. This is where your food comes from, though. Unless you're vegetarian, in which case this post is really not for you. I am not a vegetarian, but I do feel it important to know where the food I put in my mouth has come from. I won't be eating either of these two - they've been sold direct to the abattoir and will most likely be appearing in a supermarket near you sometime soon. They are completely traceable though, from burger right back to the farm just outside Barrhead where they were born. 

They spent twenty-eight months in my care, during which time every one of the very few medicinal treatments they underwent (pour-on wormer is all they ever had, as it happens) was noted and remains in my records should anyone wish to know. They spent most of their short lives on the hillside, with their mothers, eating grass and heather as nature intended. I don't farm organically - that's an argument for a whole other blog post - but they're as close to organic as doesn't matter, and about as extensively raised as can be.

And in the end I took them to the closest abattoir I could find, minimising the journey time and the stress involved. The facility in Perth is state-of-the-art, the layout designed for efficient processing of animals, which includes making sure they're not shit-scared from the moment they arrive. My two came off the trailer and up the ramp more curious than anything else, which was more of a relief to me than I was expecting.

And what of the third, I hear you ask? Well, he's being saved for something a bit more special. He'll be slaughtered in about a month's time, then hung for at least twenty-eight days, possibly thirty-five if I can get away with it. His carcass will be butchered and split up into a dozen or so boxes of joints, mince and other bits and bobs. I'm going to have a couple of these for my freezer, the rest being sold to friends and family, just in time for Christmas.

Friends of mine who have a smallholding in Wales have a thing they call 'smug' meals, where the food they eat is entirely their own produce. When I finally get to eat a piece of meat from one of my own animals, then I'll fell very smug indeed.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Do Some Damage

I'm all too aware that I've been neglecting this place of late. It happens, sadly. Especially when I've got a novel on the boil. The Hangman's Song, number three in the DI McLean series, is pretty much ready to be sent off to my editor now, so I ought to have a bit more time.

I say 'ought to'. The truth is I'm busier than ever. Lambing and calving are looming, meaning livestock has to be checked and fed every day. There's also the small matter of Natural Causes being published on May 9th and all the hoopla that goes with it. I am equal parts little-boy-at-Christmas excited and little-boy-in-the-dark terrified at the prospect. Michael Joseph are putting a lot of effort into promoting the book, which means high profile for shy and retiring me. Backing reluctantly into the spotlight I go.

But I've not been completely unproductive of late. My good friend Russel D McLean, asked if I'd fill in for him over at Do Some Damage last week, whilst he was away in Paris on holiday, eating Wild Boar and going to Jazz Clubs. I of course leapt at the opportunity, and wrote something all about me. Well, it's the only subject I'm the world's expert on, after all.

You can read it here, and I recommend you visit DSD frequently for updates and insights into the world of crime fiction writing.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

End of an Era

16-04-1998 to 12-02-2013

Yesterday evening, around about feeding time, I noticed that Machrihanish, the SausageDog was in some distress. He was having a lot of difficulty standing, his back legs really not wanting to work. Eventually he made it outside and had his tea, but there was no way he was going to get back inside without being carried.

He was unable to move at all come dog-outs and bedtime. I carried him out to the grass, but he didn't seem to want to do anything. Usually he sleeps outside in the kennel with all the other dogs, but I brought him in to the warm so he could sleep by the fire.

He woke me pretty much every hour, on the hour. Not yelping in pain so much as quietly moaning - not really wanting to make a fuss. He could only lie on his side, and couldn't get up to turn around. I did my best to make him comfortable each time.

This morning, I took him to see Claire, our vet. She confirmed what I'd suspected - he'd lost the use of his back legs completely, along with most of the sensation at his back end. We could spend a lot of time and money on expensive examinations to try and find out why, or we could accept that his time had come. It was a desperately sad decision, but in the end not difficult. He slipped away peacefully, munching on a handful of biscuits.

A year ago, Mac was still coming for walks, albeit following on at his own slow pace a long way behind. He developed a heart murmur when he was about seven, and has been a bit of a poddler ever since. Recently, the arthritis had started to get him in the front legs, much like it did Mort. He was still happy enough to potter around the caravan, and I built a ramp so he could get in - stairs were something that defeated him long ago. I'd been steeling myself to the inevitable, and swearing I wouldn't delay making the decision for my own selfish reasons, like I did with Chiswick and Mort. In the end, the nature of Mac's condition made it much easier (which is not to say in any way easy). Dachshunds are notorious for back problems, and he was a very large Dachshund - almost twenty kilos and not really all that fat. Mort and Chiswick both degenerated slowly, always leaving the forlorn hope that they might get better. I knew with Mac that this would never be the case.

Mac came to us from an old schoolfriend of my mother, Caroline Woodall, back in the spring of 1998. Caroline was universally known as Dassie Dubb, and the Dachshunds she bred were all Dassiewood Dogs. Mac's official name was Dassiewood Easter Day, as that was when he was born. We couldn't make the journey all the way down to Oxfordshire to pick him up, so a friend of Dassie's, who was going to the Kelso Dog Show, brought him with her, and we travelled down from Edinburgh for the collection. 

Whilst at the show, and before Dassie's friend had arrived, we bought a collapsible wire cage which we were assured by the salesman was the right size for a standard Dachshund. These cages are brilliant for house-training puppies, but when we first saw Mac we realised we were going to need a bigger one. By the time he'd finished growing, he was just over nineteen kilos, all muscle with not an ounce of fat on him (keeping up with two terriers will do that to you). 

Throughout his life, Mac's size was a subject of comment and amazement. Often people would rudely accuse him of being some kind of cross-breed, despite the fact that he has a pedigree as long as your arm. He just shrugged it off as one of those things, and got on with enjoying life.

It was my father who first called him the puddlehound, and the name was very apt. Mac loved water, though he was rubbish at swimming. Anything shallow enough for him to keep his back legs on the bottom was fair game, though, which given his size meant he could cross surprisingly deep streams. He preferred muddy puddles, of course. He was long-haired, which meant that his undercarriage picked up muck and sticks and anything else it came into contact with. You could always tell where he'd been lying after coming back from a stroll, as there would be a Dachshund-shaped pile of very fine silt where his fur had dried out and broken the mud down.

With his thick coat, the Dachshund really didn't like the heat of summer. He relished the cold though, and particularly liked the snow. Unfortunately it liked him rather too much as well, sticking to his fur and forming great balls under his oxters. He'd still carry on until he couldn't move his legs at all, then wait patiently for someone to break off big chunks until he could start all over again. Later, he'd lie in front of the boiler in the kitchen, a large puddle of water oozing out around him onto the tiles as he thawed out.

Mac was one of the original three DevilDogs, as immortalised in logo form by Stuart MacBride. We were still living in Roslin, the Horse Doctor and I, when we got him, and I was trying to make a living as a writer of Science Fiction and comics. My study was a lean-to on the end of the house, with its one window looking out onto the main street. The wall was about three feet thick, as many old buildings around there are, and the dogs liked to sit on the windowsill and watch the world go by as I was typing. This was easy enough with Chiswick and Mort, who could both leap up onto the chair and then the window. Mac had to be lifted, but at least once he was there he was a source of warmth for the others. Typing away at my keyboard I'd often find people staring in the window, pointing at the dogs and occasionally knocking on the glass. I don't think they ever saw me, lurking there in the shadows.

I have to go and dig a large hole now, somewhere close to where I buried Chiswick and Mort. I have a personal rule that I don't drink alcohol when I'm on my own. But tonight I think I'll break it and raise a dram to Machrihanish the SausageDog. A constant companion for almost fifteen years. I miss him already.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photographs make for an easy blog post

I realised today that it's almost the end of November and I've not posted anything all month. OK, so I didn't post much last month either, but at least I posted something.

The reason for my lack of online activity is a simple one: I am writing. To be specific, I am writing book three in the DI McLean series, The Hangman's Song. It's going OK, since you ask. Not brilliant - I've had to take a bit of time off to sort it all out in my head before hitting the home straight, but I'm almost 60k done of a target of 100k by Christmas. I have a scene list that should take me to the end, although I know that it's too early to really nail anything down.

More importantly I've finally figured out what a major sub-plot is all about, which is nice given the amount of time I've put into the characters and their scenes so far. This book is unlike any I've written before, but then I could say that about all the others, except perhaps the first one.

And so a photograph, since I promised you one. Or maybe two. In a little over a week I shall be taking delivery of a pair of kittens. And since this is the internet, there must be pictures.

One is grey and stripey

The other is green and stripey

Neither have names as yet. Feel free to suggest some, just as I will feel free to ignore your suggestions. It remains to be seen how the dogs cope with this new invasion, let alone me.

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