A little piece of heaven

I hadn’t ventured down that street for a year or more. Hadn’t crossed their tiled threshold for even longer. Speed and convenience had won out. But at what cost ?

The room was bright, buzzing with possibility, enticing with colour and variety. I felt a smile crease my face, a lightness invade my being, an excitement take hold in my heart. All my senses had instantly become stimulated in this wonderful bookish atmosphere.

The sales girl was helpful, knowledgeable and pleasant. She directed me to exactly where I needed to be. Handed me the very article I was seeking. And then left me to wander the shop. Oh and it was hard to be sensible. Almost impossible not to give in and buy, buy, buy. I was in seventh heaven.

So many eye-catching displays. Hundreds of books stacked, lying flat, fanned out in semi-circles, juxtaposed to dramatic effect. Some good ideas for Mirren Jones’ book displays at author events in the future.

I instantly made a vow. Never again online book buying. A few pence off, an instant response, next day delivery. Who REALLY needs that?

Instead I’ll be visiting my local Waterstones or Independent bookstore on a regular basis for the sheer feel-good factor. And to see what is out there, handle the products, study the covers, read the blurbs, and with a sensible head on, select some gems for today, and mentally store the names of more for later.

In fact, my request to Santa this year will be a whopping big book token.

And my New Year’s resolution, will be to see our new novel, Never Do Harm on Waterstones bookshop shelves all over the country. I remember the thrill I felt a decade ago when I saw Eight of Cups, Mirren Jones’ first novel, sitting on the shelf in the Perth branch, in-between Lloyd Jones (Mr Pip) and Sadie Jones (The Outcast). We were in very good company indeed!

8 of c perth

Books can sit with other objects too of course. At Court Robert Arts Centre Christmas Fair nr. Raglan, Monmouthshire, Never Do Harm was positioned next to the sculpture ‘Titania’ by Christine Baxter, which inspired its striking cover.  The result was a stunning display.

book display two court arts

Books can even BE a sculpture!

The environment plays its part too. Here we are at St Andrews University Union for Freshers’ Week. A bit lonesome as the only author present. Although Mirren’s blouse does a good job of creating atmosphere!

Mirren in St Andrews

Barter Books in Alnwick, the old railway station, complete with buffet, miniature trains and platforms is a wonderful setting for a huge second hand bookstore. Another world, time out to wander, read at few pages, delight at what turns up – there really is no comparison. (Pity the authors don’t benefit second time around.)

barter-books

When you think about it, online shopping is a very poor experience when it comes to books. Mirren and Jones will be browsing real bookshops from now on!

 

What exactly is a ‘writer’?

When people ask me (Mirren) what I do, I tend to say ‘I’m a Medical Practice Manager’ and sometimes I might add, ‘Oh, and I do a bit of writing too.’

As I begin to think about retiring from my day job, and concentrating more of my time and energies on writing, I wonder whether one day I’ll answer simply, ‘I’m a writer.’

The doubt resides in the question – What does being a writer actually mean?

That I am a published author? That I write books? That I spend the majority of my waking hours creating written pieces of work? Or that other people think my writing is good?

The facts are that with my co-author Elaine (Jones), I have had two non-fiction books published by a mainstream medical publisher, have independently published a debut novel and have another with a complete first draft. And still I wonder if I am a writer . . .!

Continue reading “What exactly is a ‘writer’?”

‘Listomania’ (including the top 10 attributes in a co-author!)

It’s summer. The sky here in Perthshire is heavy with threatening rain clouds and we keep fingers crossed that the weekend will stay dry. It’s also the season for lists. That time of the year when the newspapers run out fresh ideas to fill their many column inches.

And so we see:

o Twenty recommended activity holidays for families
o The most sought after hotel rooms this month
o And even ‘The Ten Best Elvis Lookalike Dogs‘ (here’s one!)

Elvis lookalike dog

So while we’re on the topic of lists – here is my list of The top ten attributes in a co-author.

In no specific order.

  • Complementary strengths – resulting in something that is greater than the sum
  • A shared view of what makes a ‘good’ piece of work – so that the output of the creative minds converge
  • Honesty – about all things pertinent to the writing process
  • The ability to give and accept constructive criticism – so that differences are a spur to improving quality
  • Flexibility over deadlines and progress – which will be inevitable, and may not apply equally
  • Respect for the other person – for their feelings, values and hopes
  • Reflective – and willing to engage in a learning experience
  • Fun and interesting to be with – that’s what helps keep the momentum going
  • Supportive and positive – you’ll need that when the going gets tough for you

Does anyone have any more suggestions?

And now for the ubiquitous list of Top summer reads. All enjoyed by Mirren at one time or another with feet up, beach or pool-side.

Continue reading “‘Listomania’ (including the top 10 attributes in a co-author!)”

Let there be Light


The concept of light has always been important to me.  I love the sunlight, prefer being out of doors, hate the dark, and loathe the short winter days.  From a recognised date in October, until the sun begins to return to this hemisphere, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to lack of light.

When it comes to writing and being productive, I can reflect back happily on two months during winter 2011, on mornings spent writing in Tenerife, after a leisurely cup of tea on the sun-bathed balcony.  Eight weeks and a third of a book drafted, with still time to show visitors around, visit local markets, dine out on wonderful fresh fish and walk daily unencumbered by coat, hat or scarf.

The Canary Islands in winter are home to many creative snowbirds, headed south for the ideal conditions to live out their intended life.

Where would your ideal place to write be?

Continue reading “Let there be Light”

The Writers’ Blog Tour

Welcome to the Diary of Mirren Jones – a new stop on the Writers’ Blog Tour. We hope you’ll enjoy your visit, and will go on to sample the blogs of other writers, highlighted below. We are part of a growing international community of writers, working to introduce each other’s blog to a wider audience. Christine Findlay, Chair of Bookmark Blair, (Blairgowrie Rattray and The Glens Book Festival) in  Perthshire, Scotland invited us to take part. (see www.cfindlay.blogspot.com) We in turn have invited the writers Angela Jeffs (Scotland), Heidi Garrett (USA) and Marc Mordey (Wales).

More of these lovely people later, but firstly, by way of introduction: MIRREN JONES is the pseudonym for the creative writing partnership of Marion Duffy from Scotland and Elaine Atkins from Wales. We have been writing together for 17 years: non-fiction books, journal papers, articles, academic courses, workshops, short stories, poetry and a novel.  And we’re still good friends!  Marion currently works as a medical practice manager, and Elaine was formerly a senior NHS manager – our experiences bringing realism to our novel- in-progress, Never Do Harm.

In common with all writers in the Blog Tour we hope to give you some insight into our processes, plans and progress by answering four key questions.

Continue reading “The Writers’ Blog Tour”

Is the film as good as the book?

One positive by-product of having a foot operation is that my weekly trip to the yoga class, and twice weekly practice of karate have been replaced by several visits to the cinema.  So for once I can say I have seen almost all the Oscar winners in their prizewinning roles.  I can recommend without hesitation The Dallas Buyers’ Club, Gravity and Philomena.  Blue Jasmine was a disappointment.  And somewhere in between lay American Hustle.

On last week’s excursion I went to see The Book Thief, the film of the hugely popular book.  It generated that ubiquitous question – is the film as good as the book?

Continue reading “Is the film as good as the book?”

Compare and Contrast

Although it is many, many years since I last sat an English Lit exam, the instruction to ‘compare and contrast’ can take me right back there. Knowing plenty about one of the pieces but not enough about the other! Trying to make what I did know, fit some kind of structure. Hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious that most of the quotations came from the favoured text.

The phrase came to me quite involuntarily this week when reading two very different books in tandem – Stoner by John Williams (a work of fiction) and Where Memories Go by Sally Magnusson, (part memoir, part research and reporting into the effects of dementia on memory.)

Two very different reads set in highly dissimilar contexts and yet the overriding feeling that remains is of having walked the road step by step with the author. William Stoner is a university professor in the 1930s-50s in Tennessee, initially amazed to find himself an academic when he had expected to return to his father’s small farm to continue to scratch a living. His life is in many ways low key and uneventful; he is probably forgotten very quickly once he hangs up his gown. And yet his acceptance of a life full of disappointment and sadness is quietly inspiring and laudable.

Continue reading “Compare and Contrast”

In Another Light

Seeing situations in another light seems to be a theme this week. I have just finished reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon who writes with the voice of a boy with autism.  He taught me that hating brown and yellow is really no different from having favourite colours like blue and green.  And that having a strategy to cut out extraneous and disturbing noise makes logical sense – even if his is not the one I might use.

Then Richard Rohr in his daily meditation which arrives by text each morning, pointed out our human tendency to feel right and special only by making others wrong or lesser in some way.  We handle paradox very badly and so remain cut off from much of the spiritual richness of life.

And today in an Angela Jeffs’ workshop on Proprioceptive Writing , I learned that writing from a relaxed and meditative mind can free up imagination and allow an authentic voice to emerge.

So I am keen to see how that different light, which has hopefully rebooted my conscious and subconscious in several ways, will affect my writing this week.

And if you haven’t read In Another Light by Andrew Greig, check it out. I loved it, Jones didn’t – we don’t always see things in the same light!

The forgotten bookshelf: my life flashed before me

Image

Yesterday, I had a surreal experience. While dragging myself round a typical Saturday’s chores, I was waiting for the tumble dryer to complete a 10 minute towel softening stint, when my eye was caught by an adjacent bookshelf. My tumble dryer is located in a cupboard on the upstairs landing – a multi-purpose storage area, home to a mini Chinese laundry, innumerable boxes of family photos, a spare uncomfortable futon for the foolhardy who’ve imbibed one too many, and loads of books gathered over the years, and shelved in no particular order.  Or are they? I was taken aback, and taken back through the years by an apparently random shelf of books which seemed to encapsulate the key periods and interests of my lifetime.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri – the mountains in summer, the wildflowers, the alpine hut, sleeping on a bed of straw.  It was a far cry from a life in a Dundee suburb, one of my very first loves and prompted a detour to visit  Heidi-land while in Switzerland a few years ago.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – a school reader, and the first novel to touch an invisible place where roots, primeval attachment and a burgeoning sense of identity lay. One of the few books I have returned to several times over the years.

Across the Great Divide  by Jim Wilkie – a history of professional football in Dundee, evoking memories of pride, excitement and quality time spent at Dens Park with my late father every second Saturday from age 10 to 18.

Everything Elvis by Helen Clutton – the book of facts I could probably have written myself such was my appetite for all things Elvis from the days of Blue Hawaii onwards!  Very useful on quiz nights. Continue reading “The forgotten bookshelf: my life flashed before me”

Words, glorious words!

At a practice meeting recently, I asked fellow primary care team members to sum up their reactions in one word or phrase to our Practice Safety Questionnaire results. As is often the case, their responses took seconds but spoke volumes –

  • reassured
  • not surprised
  • I’m glad we all think the same. 

I was later reminded of the power of a few well-chosen words when reading and laughing at a scene in Karen Campbell’s novel ‘And This is Where I Am’.

and this is where I am

When Somalian refugee Abdi asks a local Glasgow worthy how business is going, the aforementioned ‘Jimmy’ replies ‘Fair tae pish’!

And closer to home, when a friend enquired by text ‘and how are you?’ I found myself searching for that colourful phrase from my Dundonian grandmother’s rich fund of local dialect: glessy-ersed.

One of the discoveries Mirren and Jones made when collaborating on their first novel Eight of Cups was that Mirren enjoyed writing dialogue, while Jones was drawn more to descriptive prose.

So here’s one for Jones, from Mirren’s current bedtime reading – Your Blue Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore.

The front door looks as if it’s been shut for ever. The windows peer, reflecting the dark sky, giving nothing out of what happens inside.  A wave of senseless panic makes me fumble the car keys as I fit them into the lock. I won’t look back.

your blue eyed boy

See Mirren’s review on Goodreads for more detail.