Author Copies

On Thursday, even though we were just a few days away from publication, it still didn't feel real. I'm not sure I will completely believe it until I see the book on a shelf in a bookshop, but on Thursday we moved one step closer to that happening. A delivery driver knocked on my red front door, and calmly asked me to sign for a cardboard box. He was nonplussed by my not-calm-at-all response. 'Those are my books! This is so exciting.' 

I signed. He left.

I carried the box into the kitchen and put it on the table. I sat down and looked at it for a minute or two. And then, wielding my trusty old Sabatier knife, bought in France in 1977, (yikes, that's forty years) I sliced open the tape which was holding it closed.  

I looked inside.

I delayed, examining the rather nifty packaging. Tubes of brown paper (I presume this is book-waste of some sort) which have been stitched together with a huge staple-free stapler. Really very clever, I thought.

And then I looked underneath. 
My publisher sends five complimentary Author Copies. I bought another twenty at a discount (more of that next week).

Isn't it beautiful?

I mean, I know I'm a little biased, but don't you agree?

Jean and Fred have arrived.

The advance copies which went out to pledgers seem to have been well received. There are five star reviews on Goodreads, and I keep getting Twitter DMs and FB messages saying lovely things about it. 

On Monday morning the ebook will be launched on Amazon, and I'm told there will be paperbacks there as well. People have been going into Blackwell's and Waterstones and indie bookshops like the fabulous Big Green Bookshop (BGB offer free UK shipping) and ordering their own book, and extra copies for friends and family as well, which is simply fabulous.

The book would not have come to exist without the advice and help of a lot of people. They are in the Acknowledgements at the end. If you read them, you will get some idea of the scope of the research which went into it, and once again, I would like to say thank you to everyone. You are all a part of this.

If you are in Edinburgh, there is an Official Launch in Blackwell's on Wednesday 3rd May in the evening. Please come, there will be cake, and special Sewing Machine Gin, and I would love to say hello!


Book Launch

I have very exciting news!
If you pledged for the book, clear your diaries for this weekend. Hire a dog walker, book a take-away, arrange a supermarket delivery, bribe the children. 
Pledger copies of the ebook will be sent out THIS THURSDAY, 30th March, almost three weeks before anyone else gets to read it. 

The official publication date is 17th April.

You want to see the cover?

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 18.31.20 (1).jpg


What do you think?

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, I have more...

The important bit to look at in this image is the ISBN detail.
See where it says ISBN (ebook)?
Look at the next line.
I have been pretty much sworn to secrecy over this and haven't been able to tell anyone about it. 
My book is going to be a paperback too.

This is the BACK cover, and the spine...

The designer, Mark Ecob, has been amazing. 
After you have read the book, if you look at the cover, you will find clues on it. It's very, very clever.

This is the whole design.

The ebook is now on amazon for pre-order, with publication on the 17th April 2017. 
In a few days time, it will be there as a paperback, for pre-order - I will let you know when that happens.
And of course, you'll be able to order it from your local bookshop as well, as soon as the details of the paperback are on the wholesaler's database. 

Thank you, EVERYONE, who has come on this journey with me. 
You are my team, YOU made this happen. 
Please share this post, far and wide, and let's tell the world about the story of an old sewing machine, and the people whose lives it touched.

Natalie x


Time for tea

The proofs have been sent back.
The publisher is doing publishing type things.
The cover is ready.
So all that remains is to be patient and wait until I'm told when THE date is going to be.

And while I'm waiting, I'm drinking quite a lot of tea.

This is not a teapot. It may look like a modern take on a teapot, but it's actually a sauce jug from the IKEA 365+ range. This was one of those items you sometimes find on the shelves in the sale section, beside wonky three wheeled office chairs and partly built chests of drawers. I loved it immediately and snaffled it before anyone else made a move. It's double walled, I think, so it keeps things hot or cold, and in our house it's been used for custard and gravy as well as tea.
If you want one I'm afraid you're out of luck because it's discontinued; I may have captured the last one in the whole world on that morning in the blue and yellow store, which no one leaves without a packet of tea lights.

The most important feature on a teapot of course, is the spout - or in this case, the lip of the jug. It doesn't dribble, not even a tiny bit. This is more than I can say for the stove-top coffee pot we bought in a Brussels market one Saturday morning, which hisses and spits so badly it has to be used over the sink. 

Generally, I'm a big mug of tea sort of person; 300ml, if I have a choice. But sometimes I want a cup of tea, with a saucer and since I'm trying to be ladylike about my book release date, and not jump up and down and SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!!! all over the place, I thought that today was a proper-cup-and-saucer occasion. 

I'll let you know more about the book dates as soon as I can.


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It's Tuesday, 21st March 1911

The strike at the Singer factory in Clydebank, began on Tuesday, 21st of March 1911.
A Tuesday just like today, one hundred and six years ago.

Some statistics:

At the time, about half of the women who lived in Clydebank and who worked outside the home, worked at the Singer factory.
According to the 1911 Census, four times as many women in Clydebank worked in the engineering and metalwork sectors then were employed in domestic service (the main female employment in 1911).
80% of these women were under 24 years of age.

The Singer strike was initiated by fifteen women who worked in the Polishing Department. By the end of day one, two thousand of the total workforce of about eleven thousand were on strike. Imagine for a minute, how that must have felt. 

When I first started writing "The Sewing Machine", I thought it was going to be a novel about, well, a sewing machine. But as I wrote, Jean and Fred and Connie and Donald took over and different themes emerged.

There is sewing, of course, but the characters, and the research, dictated other narratives as well.

It's a novel about employment, about what happens when we are unable to work for half a dozen different reasons and how the removal of that choice makes us feel.
It's about families, and family secrets. Sometimes secrets are kept because people are ashamed, however there are many other reasons for remaining silent.
And it's about craft. We have all experienced the feeling of getting engrossed in a project, whether that's knitting a sock, icing a cake, sewing a dress, or even mowing the grass in the back garden very carefully into stripes. Craft, especially craft which is complicated enough that we need to concentrate, but not so fiendish that we want to chop it into tiny pieces, allows us to switch off when we are stressed, and to heal.

Once a book has been published, it no longer belongs to the author, it's the property of the reader. 
I'm incredibly excited about letting Jean and Fred go out into the world to tell their stories.
Launch date SOON!



Yesterday was the UK Visit My Mosque day. All over the country, Mosques opened their doors to the public, and having discovered the event on Twitter, I decided to go along.  


Edinburgh Central Mosque (there is also one at Blackhall) is located right in the middle of University-Dom, nearly the McEwan Hall. It was built in the mid '90s. 

We were made very welcome, and after taking our shoes off, we were invited in to the main hall where prayer takes place five times as day. I have heard the call to prayer in Marrakech and it goes out across the city from the tall Mosque towers. You really can't miss it. In Edinburgh, and perhaps in other U.K. cities, it is only heard within the Mosque. The call goes out half an hour before prayer to allow people to arrive in time. 

In Edinburgh the building is two storey, and the downstairs has a library and a long hall where the social events are held, including a Muslim Scouts troop, a playgroup, women's groups, a mental health initiative, and a gardening group.


We went back upstairs and we're invited to watch the prayer taking place.  

Men line up at the front and women at the back. This is not hierarchical, but for modesty purposes, because there is a lot of bending over and kneeling. If women prefer, they can pray in a separate area.  

The men lined up along the long golden yellow lines which are woven into the carpet. They seem to start in the middle, opposite the Imam, and then spread out evenly to left and right. Only when the first line is completely full does a second line start to form behind them, starting in the centre, just like the first. 

Prayer lasts about five minutes, and the Imam spoke to us afterwards, saying how pleased he was that we had come to visit.  

Afterwards I asked a young man (a sash-wearing volunteer guide) about why the lines were so long. In a Christian church, people may sit in the same place each week, or perhaps not, but the lines felt completely random, with people not knowing their neighbour. 

He came to stand beside me, our shoulders touching, and explained that the closeness meant our hearts were touching. It there was a gap, we were not connected in the same way.  This is why everyone stands side by side with no planning or organisation; they are sharing their hearts. That may not be the best explanation ever, but I rather like it. 

If you get the chance next year, do visit. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I learned a lot. 


Adventures in proofreading


My proofs have arrived.

This means more learning of unfamiliar software; on this occasion Adobe Acrobat Reader. If anyone wants to take up a hobby to keep their brain active, I can heartily recommend the publishing process. It's not the actual writing - it's the editing, the software, the multiple balls being kept airborne at the same time and the scouring of old newspaper archives for obscure dates.

Do you want to know about the weather in April 1911? 
The change in the cost of posting a letter over the last eighty years?
The problems with the potato harvest during WW1?

I can tell you about all of these in considerable detail, but I won't - or at least, not now.

As I said, the proofs have arrived. This is the last step before publication and is simultaneously very exciting and utterly terrifying. 

Can you see those four capital letters on the bottom line?

That is, or will be, the 13 digit International Standard Book Number which is assigned to my book. I confess I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw it in the proofs. Suddenly this has all got a bit real. I can't really talk about timescales at the moment because all the strands of the process are not yet woven together, and the Christmas and New Year holidays have slowed things down a bit. 

As soon as I have dates, I'll let you know.

I hope you had a splendid Christmas and a wonderful start to 2017. 



The kindness of strangers

On Thursday evening, I went to Aldi to do the grocery shopping. I was fitting it in between finishing the copy-edits (yippeeeee) and collecting Gavin from the airport. So, while I wasn't in a rush, I wasn't hanging about. As some of my friends know, I do not see shopping as entertainment, the only possible exceptions being fabric, books and stationery. I have been known to post a photo of an empty trolley on Twitter, and ask my followers to lay bets on how long it will take me to  get to the end of my shop with a full week's worth of groceries. I think the record so far is twenty six minutes, including checkout. 

Aldi is small shop, which helps a lot. One variety of canned chopped tomatoes, one size bag of frozen peas, three sorts of honey - have you LOOKED at the big-supermarket honey section recently?

So I was reasonably confident I could get in and out in about twenty minutes, and indeed, I was lined up at a newly opened checkout counter in seventeen. I unloaded my shopping onto the moving belt and waited for the lady on the till to catch up with me. I felt in my pocket for my purse and ... no purse. 

'Hold on!' I said, 'Can you just give me a minute, I have left my purse in the car.' And I raced off to get it. 

I opened the passenger door, fully expecting it to be on the seat. No purse.  

I ran back into the shop. The checkout lady was ringing through someone else's basket of stuff and chatting away.

'I'm really sorry, I must have left it at home.' I said. 

I stood there patting my pockets, feeling like a prize fool. And then I remembered that I had gone into the boot to get my shopping bags and boxes before I had collected the trolley. 

'Wait a minute! It might be in the boot!' I looked apologetically at the people in the queue behind me. 'Really sorry, I'll be back in a minute.' Again I sprinted outside to the car, and, sure enough, there it was, under a large IKEA bag.  

I grabbed it and walked (I was out of breath by now) back into the shop, waving it triumphantly. 

The couple who had gone ahead of me smiled and went on their way.  

It wasn't until after I had paid for the groceries that the nice checkout lady told me that the couple had offered to pay for all of it.  


Just to clarify, this wasn't a little top-up shop, I had a full conveyer belt of food.  


£39.52 worth of shopping, which two  complete strangers offered to pay for. 

I have no idea who they were, but this was Livingston Aldi at about 19:30 on Thursday 8th December.  

Thank you, whoever you are.  


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.



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.