Posted in Travel, Writing

The Mystery of the Vanishing Bag

A post about one of the milestones in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series

photo of Harris Tweed shoulder bag
It’s in the bag… well, nearly!

This is the beautiful shoulder bag that I bought this summer at the Harris Tweed shop in Inverness this summer. It’s the repository for my research for the eighth book in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’d planned to make it only (!) a seven-book series, but this summer’s trip to the Highlands planted an indelible germ of an idea for an eighth adventure following on after the seven-book cycle has run the course of the village year.

Sophie will take Hector to meet her parents, who live and work in Inverness, and inevitably a local mystery will ensue there, with a series of attempts on Hector’s life, and taking them all over this vibrant Highland city just above Loch Ness, to the Highland Folk Museum (our favourite museum in the world), the remarkable Leakey’s Bookshop, and into the Highland wilderness.

The Handbag Vanishes…

The bag has already been involved in a mystery of its own. I realised a couple of day after we’d unpacked our camper van at the end of our summer trip to Scotland, with my husband unloading while I put everything away in our house, that my precious new bag had not made it back into the house. My husband swore blind he had emptied the van, and that there was nothing left in there at all.  I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

A few weeks later, on a trip out in the van with his best friend, when they were turning the van inside out in search of his friend’s missing glasses (his friend had put Gordon’s on by mistake, and said “These glasses don’t work”), he told me again that the bag was nowhere to be found.

They would certainly have found it this time, Gordon told me, especially after his friend had found his glasses.

In despair – as I had stuffed the bag full of notes, brochures, ideas, and postcards as I roamed around Inverness on our final day there – I made a special trip to the van to see for myself. There on top of my husband’s sleeping bag lay the missing bag.

Needless to say, I won’t be asking him for advice on detection techniques any time soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

cover of Murder in the Manger
The Sophie Sayers Christmas Special is due out on 6th November

Meanwhile, I’m on the home straits with book #3 in the series, Murder in the Manger, which will be published on 6th November as a Christmas special. It’s already available to pre-order as an ebook on Amazon, and the paperback will be published at the same time.

cover of Trick or Murder?
Available now in paperback and ebook, with a lively story spanning Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night

And in the meantime, the second book in the series will provide a topical seasonal read. The story in Trick or Murder? kick off right about now, and runs through Halloween (31st October) and Guy Fawkes’ Night (5th November).

Here’s the buying link to the series so far on Amazon – or you can order the books from your local independent bookshop by quoting the title, my name, and the ISBN.

There’s also more information about the series on my website here. 

 

Posted in Travel

A Summer of Extremes: From Ithaca to Inverness

This post about my summer holidays first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser’s September issue.

Photo of an Ithacan beach with clear blue sky
Soaking up the sun beside the Ithacan sea

I shall remember this summer break as the holiday of two extremes – scorching, dry sunshine and chill, torrential rain, as I flitted from Ithaca to Inverness.

Bust of Homer on a pillar on Ithaca
Statue of Homer on Ithaca at daybreak

Our trip to Ithaca was a busman’s holiday for me. I was helping to run the Homeric Writers’ Workshop and Retreat, so called because the island was the start and finishing point of perhaps the most famous journey of all, that of Odysseus, as chronicled by the ancient Greek master storyteller, Homer.

Our Scottish trip was occasioned by my husband’s own odyssey – to climb all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of 3,000 feet or more, named after the man who first mapped them.

On Ithaca, the weather was idyllic: constant sunshine, cornflower-blue skies, refreshing sea breezes, all day every day. The locals apologised that there were clouds in the sky – tiny Persil-white puffballs – apparently not usually seen between June and September.

A few days later, when we flew into Inverness to meet my husband (already there in our camper van, with 20 more Munros crossed off his list before we arrived), steady rain was falling from steely skies. As we headed west for Ullapool, the clouds became more leaden. Linen sundresses, so comfortable on Ithaca, were supplemented with leggings, t-shirts, cardigans, shawls – all at once.

Steely-skied Aberdeen beach with sign listing all the hazards there
Not quite so enticing – the beach at Aberdeen

On Ithaca there are constant reminders to conserve water, always in short supply on this tiny island. In Scotland, there is evidence everywhere of the abundance of local water: high and raging rivers, waterfalls and landslips beside the roads. New flood defences are under construction wherever we go, and not a moment too soon. If there’s ever a global shortage of water, Scotland’s a dead cert for world domination.

Yet as we retreated southwards, I realised that my two holiday destinations weren’t so different after all, and not just because they both prompted us to haemorrhage money on dubious souvenirs.

Both have a vast diaspora, thanks to economic migrants driven to North America, Australia, and South Africa by the Highland Clearances in Scotland and by the 1953 earthquake in Ithaca.

Both landscapes are scarred by the ruins of abandoned, simple stone houses, surprisingly similar in structure and appearance.

magnetBoth populations departed with a deep love of their homeland imprinted on their hearts. Whenever they can, they return. Australian, American and South African accents abound on Ithaca. In Scotland, 2014 has been declared Homecoming year, to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, at which the Scots trounced the English. (By chance, my husband hails from Bannockburn.)

I feel privileged to have been able to holiday in places that so many people, all over the world, will always regard as home. Yet I’m also glad to return to the Cotswolds, which, as a small child on holiday there, I resolved I would one day make my home.

Because as Homer himself once said: “Nothing is sweeter than home”. At least, that’s what it says on my Ithacan souvenir fridge magnet.

 

Posted in Travel

The Unusual Souvenirs of Camper Van Travel

Our camper van outside Linlithgow Palace, Scotland
Outside our last stop in Scotland this summer: Linlithgow Palance

As regular readers may know, my family’s favourite mode of holiday transport is the camper van. For me, one of the many joys of camper van travel is that no matter where you go, your vehicle gradually turns into a mobile museum of everywhere you’ve ever been. I don’t mean we fill our van with souvenirs acquired in gift shops. I’m thinking more of everyday domestic items acquired from local shops in whichever country we’re passing through.

The Esperanto Kitchen

Take the kitchenette. The kitchen roll is French, printed with puzzling slogans about champignons, whereas the tea towel depicts the Outer Hebrides. Snacks are offered up on a French tray printed with macarons. A wooden Provençal tomato punnet is now filled with wrapped Welsh sweets. Having used the last of the Belgian soups that broadened our knowledge of Flemish words for vegetables, we’ve just restocked the soup shelf with tartan tins of “Granny’s Scotch Broth” in the North West Highlands of Scotland. Currently in the biscuit tin are handmade lavender shortbread, purchased at the Achiltibuie Piping School Café, which was quieter than expected because the Pipers were on a summer tour of France. Admittedly some of our supplies have more prosaic origins, i.e. Tesco, but at least they came from the Inverness branch.

Reading on the Road

Cover of the memoir of the founding of the Highland Folk Museum
The best book I read on holiday this summer

As I like to read books about the places we’re visiting, our on-board library bears price labels from distant bookstores. (If you’re ever in Inverness, seek out Leakey’s.) We also buy novels from shops raising money for charities that we’ve never heard of. Blythe Community Care was everywhere we went this summer.

This cosmopolitan mix may be taken simply to indicate a lack of advance planning – I admit that we did once set off on a month’s tour of France without a map or guidebook for that country – but for me the eclectic atmosphere is part of the fun.

Tropic of Tetbury

Preparing to head home after this summer’s adventures, it occurred to me that one man’s exotic is another man’s local. As we import our latest Scottish bounty to Gloucestershire, others will be heading away with treasures acquired in Tetbury. They’ll be dropping Hobbs House crumbs into the pages of the books acquired in the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, and remembering to tell their friends about cafés named just as eccentrically as our Highland find. Can there really be a Two Toads anywhere else?

And probably, just like me, as they walk back in through their own front door, they’ll be congratulating themselves that no matter how much they’ve enjoyed their holiday, there really is no place like home.

Picture of lavender shortbread from Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe
We left a trail of these crumbs all the way home

(This post was originally published in the Tetbury Advertiser, September 2013 edition.)

More tales of our Scottish summer holiday will follow shortly.

but here’s one for starters:

Beachcombing in Ullapool – A Story Behind Every Stone