Helsinki - day 2

18397 steps


Today was a bit more rainy and we were nipping in and out of the shops to avoid the showers.  


Clas Ohlson is a mixture of B&Q, IKEA and MUJI. I was quite tempted by the idea of a Snow Kick, available in lime, pink or purple. 


Or how about a serious piece of snow clearing kit? Your very own petrol driven snow blower.  


All the cardboard boxes Santa Claus could ever need.  


And your very own sauna kit.  


Today was the day the Christmas lights got turned on under the expert guidance of a lady engineer on a step ladder, and her daughter, probably aged about ten. You can just imagine her teacher tomorrow in school - 'Write an essay about what you did at the weekend'. 

After that it was time for the procession, led off by three police horses wearing stuffed antlers.  

These were followed by all sorts of groups. Two batches of people walking Bassett Hounds in dog sized red jackets, and one collection of Dalmations doing the same.  

A vintage tram filled with pensioners dressed in cherry red sweaters.  

A library bus with Moomin on the side (naturally). 

Three or four fire engines of varying vintage.  

An entire ice hockey team complete with cheerleaders.  

A street cleaning/snow clearing municipal vehicle with a scoop bucket on the front and hay bales on the back.  


The cast (or company) from the National Ballet who were accompanied by tin soldiers, mice and ballerinas in numerous layers of leg warmers. I think they were performing the Nutcracker. 


There were Clown Doctors and finally, of course...


... there was Santa Claus in his sleigh.  


The Christmas tree is up, so I guess that means it's soon going to be time for mince pies and mulled wine.  

The procession tour was stuffed with families and young children in snow suits. It was notable that there was no tat - no street vendors selling glow in the dark plastic rubbish.  And the musicians outside the big department store weren't passing around a hat or bucket for coins, so I assume they are being properly paid by the store, which is rather nice, I think. 


On the way back to the hotel we went to the supermarket for some uce cream, and I just had to take a photo of the mustard shelves.  

Thats a SERIOUS selection. I wouldn't know where to start. And this was just an ordinary store, not a Posh shop. 

More tomorrow.  


Helsinki - day 1

Most of our holidays feature a lot of what we call 'mooching' and what other less uncharitable (and perhaps more organised) folk would call 'aimless wandering about'.


Although we have our trusty Lonely Planet guide with us, we took advantage of the hotel's supply of maps and leaflets and set off this morning in the general direction of the city centre.  

This blogpost is as much a diary for me as a public blog so what follows are notes and snippets about what we saw rather than coherent literary observations.  


You know that thing which happens when a double glazing company cold-calls you and you say 'sorry, it's been done' and they reply, cheerily 'have you thought about a conservatory then?'

I can't be the only person to have the overwhelming urge to say 'actually I live in a four storey apartment block on the top floor'. 

In Finland the double (or triple) glazing companies have that covered. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the after-market top-floor apartment conservatory. You're welcome.   


A concrete turtle.  


More concrete turtles.  


Chocolate nuts and bolts. Yes, I wonder if they work too. 


A nativity scene made from rolled paper.  




The train to... 


No, we didn't.

Tempting though.  


You have to love a fabulous Post Office, don't you? 


And a café made from shipping containers.  


Day one.  

10km walked. 16,183 steps... 


... and they have great coffee too.  


Book cover 1

I'm sitting at the airport waiting for the first of two planes which will take us to Helsinki for about a week. The flight is delayed by an hour because the crew arrived late last night and they are (rightly) entitled to a proper rest break. We still have a two hour gap between this flight and the next so I'm not stressing about missing connections - I tend not to worry about these things anyway, it's a pretty pointless exercise to panic about something I am powerless to change.


While I'm waiting, I'll tell you about an event I was invited to read at a couple of days ago, and if the wifi behaves, there might be a book cover snippet too.


On Wednesday evening I took myself into Edinburgh to meet up with Ian Skewis, Tabatha Stirling and Helen Taylor - all Unbound authors - to do an event at Blackwell's Bookshop. If you have known the city for a long time, this used to be James Thin's Bookshop.  Blackwell's took over both the general bookshop function and the academic book side of the business a number of years ago.


We had seen the event grow on the Eventbrite booking website over the last few weeks, from two people to more than eighty. This was quite astonishing. We didn't have any books to sign or for the shop to sell. This means it was a particularly generous act on the part of Blackwell's since they wouldn't make any profit from us being there. Of course the event was free, and there was no way of knowing if everyone would attend - it was a particularly foul night which added to the uncertainty.




The place was packed with only two or three seats left empty. Friends, family and colleagues past and present all arrived with smiles and good wishes which was just... well, it was a little overwhelming.


We each read from our books, and I opted to go last. Helen had a dry cough but coped admirably, dividing her reading into two parts.  Tabatha read a quite heart-rending piece from 'Blood on the Banana Leaf' which is about the maid culture in Singapore.


Ian has a professional drama school background and it really showed with a polished performance from 'Murder of Crows', a crime thriller.


And then it was my turn. The only time I have read in public before this was at an open mic event in June with an empathetic and equally nervous audience of fellow first-timers. Both my parents were actors before they went off to have different careers but I can say, hand on heart, without a any doubt at all, that the thespian genes completely bypassed me. I am the sort of person who gets wobbly  talking to the window cleaner.


I had prepared in the only way I know how; I talk to myself.

I've done it for years as job interview prep. I stand in front of the long mirror in the bedroom and I talk. I practice how the sentences sound, I tweak a word here or a phrase there. I watch my body language and gestures and try to make them match with what I'm saying. I work out where the pauses need to be. I do it when I'm driving the car too. If a police officer were to stop me for using a hands free device they would find my phone in my bag, switched off, and I would be prattling on about the injustices of workers rights in 1911.


For the book event I also decided to take props. I knew I was last and that people might be tired after a long day at work, so I wanted a couple of things to pass around the audience to act as a tactile reminder of the story. A couple of bobbins seemed to be the most appropriate thing to offer.

And the last thing I did was to offer to show the cover (the first version of it) to anyone who wanted to see it. I had downloaded it onto my iPad but I didn't want tech to get in the way so I said they could come and see me at the end if they wanted a sneak peek.


There was time for a few questions from the book-loving audience and then we drew things to a close. I think all of us were delighted by the response. People came up to say hello, to ask more questions of each of us individually, and, I'm delighted to say, there were many who wanted to see the cover which got a lot of positive feedback.


Tabatha and Helen are part way through their funding journey, so do check out their books on the Unbound website (I'm blogging from my phone and it won't let me link). Both Ian and I are fully funded, and along with Shona Kinsella, we are hoping to be able to organise a proper launch for our books in January.


I promised a cover snippet but the software for the blog doesn't seem to like airport wifi so I'll do that for you very soon.





Tomato growing this year wasn't terribly successful; the fruits just didn't seem to ripen.


I have been left with more than a few hard, green tomatoes, and while I loved the Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistlestop Café movie, I have no idea if fried green tomatoes are a thing worth eating.  

This can only mean one activity in our house.

Glutney making. 

There are various recipes online, the most famous being Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's original - but most of the time I just make it up as I go along. 


Chop up whatever veg or fruit you have to hand. If you grow your own, it's whatever you have a glut of. In my case this was the green tomatoes, a couple of yellow courgettes, an onion, a pepper, Bramley apple, carrot, celery, and a tin of tomatoes. I added chopped sultanas, sugar and vinegar and the end of a knobble of root ginger. 


Cook for about an hour. Maybe a bit longer.  


A kilogram of leftover vegetables produced three and a half jars of Glutney.  The jars are from IKEA, they do a range of sizes and at 0.4l capacity, these are perfect, not too big and not too small. 

And I still have enough green tomatoes to make several batches; each one will be a bit different because it just depends what's in the fridge or in the fruit bowl at the time.


Eat the not-full jar as soon as possible.  Since I took the photo, this one has already been emptied and awaits the next Glutney adventure.


The country mouse

I'm at the airport.  


Today, this country mouse is off to the big city in the south to meet her publisher.  

Even saying the words 'my publisher' makes me feel as though I have stepped into some kind of alternate reality. Me. The girl at school who spent English lessons wondering what it would feel like to have my name on the cover of a book. Not because I wanted to be famous or anything so silly, but to have something I had written being read by people I didn't know (SCE examiners didn't count).  

And now, or at least in the next couple of months, it's going to happen. The developmental edits are done, the copy edits will come back to me next week, and then it's the home straight of proofs and acknowledgements and (perhaps) book club notes. 

Unbound, my publisher (there I go again) is five years old and I've been invited to their birthday party in London. In publishing terms five years is the turn of a page.

Penguin is EIGHTY, founded in 1936

Canongate were set up in 1973. 

So Unbound are mere whippersnappers - and I like that. Kids see the world differently. They ask the questions no one else dares to voice. They say 'why?' And 'what if...' quite a lot. being a kid in the publishing world is rather fun, I think. 

My red party shoes are in my suitcase (actually a well travelled and rather battered rucksack) and I'm really looking forward to meeting the amazing people who want to publish my book.  

I wonder if there will be cake.  


A new home

Now that the developmental edit for my novel is finished, I thought it was time to re-design the website to reflect the fact that I'm about to be a published author (still can't quite believe it).
It's a work-in-progress, and I'll be tweaking things and messing about with fonts and images for a while, so keep checking back to see what's new.

Of course a blog is only as good as the content posted on it. A big part of blogging (or not blogging) is how easy - or difficult - it is to post from a phone. Like the rest of the population I use my phone as my camera of choice most of the time these days.

My previous blog has been exported and I'm going to archive it somewhere. Importing old blogposts is problematic, half the images get eaten by the pixel elves, and I don't suppose ten years of ancient blog posts are terribly interesting anyway.

I'm looking at finding a more spiffy blog 'feed' system, for those of you who get the blog by email, but so far I haven't found one. For the moment I suggest that the best way forward is to subscribe to my tinyletter, and once a week I'll email a list of links to the posts.

The tinyletter sign up is here

See you again soon!