A Busy Autumn in Prospect

e014f6ad5d46f48264e0f7e990f72caa--fall-coloring-pages-coloring-sheetsWell the Autumn session of talks and events has kicked off in style. A cheerful evening at Juniper Green WI set the scene. Lots of nice ladies with happy memories of the old stores.

To Morningside next week for another talk then a session at the Portobello Book Festival in their historic fiction slot the following weekend. Its all go.

Meanwhile People’s Friend have published another of my stories. U3A keeps me busy in various groups and, in my other life, I still run my groups for late diagnosed men and women with Asperger Syndrome.

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…and we’re off!

Book Launch 2‘Assured Attention,’  book 2 in the series about a large Edinburgh department store now moving into the 1980s, was launched on Monday 31st July at Blackwell’s Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh.

An attentive audience appeared to enjoy the interview of the author carried out by Gordon Lawrie from Comely Bank Publishing and came up with some interesting and challenging questions of their own!

Not least among these was which person would Jane Tulloch choose to read the books for audio recording. Hard to say. There are male and female voices required. Jane’s choice of Judi Dench was purely a default selection. Perhaps?  Hannah Gordon might have been best? Food for thought anyway.

It was a very friendly evening all round. Blackwells, as ever, did us proud.

Assured Attention- (to animals!)

The attentive reader will have noted that the first book in this series: ‘Our Best Attention’ featured a variety of animals: an embarrassing dog, a quiet cat, some cheeky monkeys (always the best!), chinchillas, quail and a Mynah bird. The little monkey draped over the title was a clue to the inclusion of animals.

In Book 2 ‘Assured Attention’, there are cats again, one, Bluebell, is Miss Murray’s own pet but a new visitor to Murrays ‘Department Store of Distinction’ has a chapter of her own.  This time it is she who adorns the title of the new book. Look out for the little Birman. Not all the staff at Murrays will have only two legs by the end of the book.

A dog features too. This time a rather depressed collie. Sad you might think,  however, he has a starring and unexpected role in a staff selection dilemma. Warning- its not what you might expect!

‘Assured Attention’ is available for pre order on Amazon Kindle and will be released to coincide with the official launch on 31st July.

I’m Back!

Well its been a long winter for me and my knee. Thankfully, things are improving and I’m now out and about again. In fact I think I’m back in a big way. My latest book ‘Assured Attention,’ a sequel to ‘Our Best Attention’ is almost ready for publication. There have been sneak previews on Facebook and Twitter. The People’s Friend have published five stories, some of which are set in Murrays (department store of distinction,) others are in more diverse settings including a call centre, a sports centre and a school.  More are to follow. My hibernation has been productive.

Requests for talks and author events are coming in a steady stream and already the diary is filling up. Fine by me. I always enjoy these events and love hearing people’s reminiscences of departed department stores.

Meanwhile Africa is calling …

Back to Work!

stock-illustration-50715032-woman-back-office-work-monitor-drawingWell the Summer break is over. Fun was duly had by all. Blackwell’s ‘Writers at the Fringe’ event went well. Time to get back to work. There’s lots to do. I started last week at the Kinross Thursday group and the Westwoods Book Group. Enjoyable evenings, interesting ladies to speak to and some great questions posed. Just what I like. Luckily, there seems to be more of these events lined up over the coming months. Bring it on.

Otherwise I’ve got lots of writing to do. Book 2 has been submitted to the publisher-Comely Bank Publishing- and I expect to be doing my ‘corrections’ as they emerge from the copy editing and proof reading stages. Then there will be cover design to think about and all the various aspects of book production that readers don’t think about. I know I never did until  my best selling novel ‘Our Best Attention.’

My other writing has been short stories for a certain ladies weekly story magazine published in Scotland. Guess which one? This has been a most enjoyable foray away from Murrays although the popular ‘Tea room ladies’ feature in two of them. I couldn’t help myself!

Next outing is as part of the ‘Edinburgh Tales’ series at the Edinburgh Central Library on 21st September.  I’ll be talking about the book but also remembering the wonderful department store which was the inspiration for the setting of ‘Our Best Attention.’ Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look on it all the tickets were snapped up weeks ago.

A Look to the Future?

BinocularsIts all go at Murray’s -department store of distinction. Book 2 is well under way. For readers keen to find out how our various friends among the staff and customers are getting on here’s a wee peep into the future.

Miss Murray and Mrs Pegram go on holiday: will it turn out to be a busman’s one?  Difficult  Mr Da Costa from Model Gowns finds a fine romance. The Tea Room ladies get up to more (barely legal) tricks and Barry Hughes, head of security, continues much as usual and struggles to get to the bottom of another crime potentially affecting the entire future of the shop.

Some new characters turn up in different departments and we meet the first winner of the “Margaret Murray Prize for Staff Initiative.” There’s an afternoon at the staff garden party at Rosehill and a few surprising arrivals- not all two legged ones.

The store itself is under scrutiny by a documentary crew. The final outcome is a surprise for someone: Murrays serves a good helping of ‘come uppance’ for one deserving person.

Until Book 2 is published there will be the occasional short story here to keep people up to date with developments in the best store in Edinburgh.

Jock’s Instant Sunshine

 There was no doubt about it. It had been a miserable start to the year. The city had been swathed in clouds for months and a thin miserable drizzle had kept people indoors unless they really had to go out. Takings were down at Murrays –department store of distinction in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Now things were even worse as a late fall of snow had taken everyone by their annual surprise. This heavy wet covering of snow gave no indication of clearing and gradually the glass roof of the Grand Hall in Murrays was encased in a thick blanket of the icy stuff. This cast a pall of gloom over the galleries and departments under the usually beautiful stained glass arc.

This pall of gloom enveloped Mr McElvey in Accounts too. He bemoaned the loss of revenue from sales but also the increased expense incurred by the reduction in natural light and increased heating costs. He groaned to Miss Murray,

“We can’t sustain this level of overheads for much longer. Staff sickness levels have increased too. I think they just can’t be bothered to turn up to stand about all day.”

Miss Murray ignored his doom laden prognostications as she usually tried to but couldn’t help worrying a little herself. It certainly was a depressing Spring.

In the Canteen, Barry, the head of Security, was entertaining his (sole) friend Jock the lift operator with the only poem he had ever managed to retain in his head:

“The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.

I wonder where the boidie is.

They say the boidie’s on the wing.

But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.”

Jock nodded politely as he always did when Barry recited this. He had heard it time and again as Barry liked to parade his imagined erudition.

Jock usually managed to present a cheerful face to his passengers, as he thought of the ladies who used his lift. They almost invariably ignored him though which, as ever, he accepted with a quiet smile. This year was different somehow. Everybody seemed to be so miserable. The noticeably fewer customers, the dimmer quality of light, the sneezes and coughs that echoed around the galleries from staff and customers alike had managed to penetrate even his good humour.

As Barry droned on about some imagined slight, Jock let his thoughts wander to how he could try to cheer everyone up. It would have to be simple, inexpensive and permitted by the Management. He looked up with a sudden smile. He had had an idea. Mumbling his excuses to Barry he stood up and made his way out of the crowded canteen. Barry paused in full flow to look at the disappearing back of his friend as he left via the rear entrance which led to the management corridor.

Mrs Pegram from Personnel listened to Jock’s request in amusement then declared that his idea was sound. Better than sound really and authorised that he proceed to carry out his plans as soon as possible.

The next morning when the lift door opened on the ground floor to admit four depressed looking ladies, there were gasps of surprise.

“Oh my!” one lady couldn’t help saying, “Look at this! Just look at it!”

Listening staff in Menswear looked up too late as the lift doors closed.

Inside the ladies smiled broadly as they regarded the bright yellow, crepe paper decked walls, the cerulean blue ceiling and the little row of plastic daffodils neatly pinned all around the walls at floor level. When the door opened on the second floor the bright flash of yellow caught the attention of staff all round the gallery. Smiles lit up as the ladies left the lift and infectiously cheered staff as the customers moved around the various departments. The lift moved onwards and upwards bearing its now cheery cargo. As the door opened at each floor it was as if there was a bright burst of sunlight. Everyone was talking about it. Strangers in the lift smiled to each other as they entered and there was a marked increase in general chat throughout the store. The sudden elevation in mood throughout the building over the next few days translated itself into increased sales thus improving even Mr McElvey’s finance focused state of mind.

In the Canteen at Barry was at first rather resentful of Jock’s sudden popularity. As staff members from various departments passed their table they made positive comments to Jock, some just patting him on the back others thanking him for cheering them up. Jock nodded modestly. Eventually, Barry came round and deciding to somehow grab some credit intoned loudly to anyone in earshot,

“Well the boidies may not be on the wing but Spring has certainly sprung at Murrays!”

 

Christmas at Murray’s- Department Store of Distinction

 

 Christmas meant different things to different people at Murrays -department store of distinction. The beautiful old shop seemed meant for Christmas. The oak fixtures and fittings, the tiered gallery and carved pillars warm in the glowing colours cast down through the stained glass cupola.

For owner and managing director Miss Murray herself, it was a time of nostalgia. It was important to her that the old traditions were maintained: the overnight appearance of the giant Christmas tree after weeks of secret planning, the choice of colour theme, the scents perfuming the old shop and the annual invitation to the choir to sing around the different departments followed by a boisterous party in the staff canteen. Generally speaking though, it was a time when she remembered the old days and those who had gone before: bitter sweet memories.

For Mr McElvey the accounts director, it was a vital time of year. He eagerly and anxiously awaited the arrival of the daily sales figures which could expect to be hugely inflated at this time of year but, equally, could be disappointing. He well remembered with a shudder the last Christmas of the 1960s when a flu epidemic, affecting both customers and staff, decimated takings. As usual, he worked late and came in early every day as the social side of Christmas meant nothing to him. He took Christmas Day and Boxing Day off with a bad grace and only because the shop was closed for those two days. He bitterly resented the loss of trade.

In Personnel, charming Mrs Pegram welcomed Christmas. She enjoyed the change of routine that Christmas involved. Organising the staff Christmas party, bonuses and the sending out of hundreds of Christmas cards was all part of her job and she was happy to do it.

Less happy were the departmental buyers. Christmas was the ultimate test of their buying skills. Would the items that they had purchased on Murrays’ account be what the customers wanted that year? Would they be left with far too much stock to be disposed of in the January sales? It was a big worry for them. They all recollected the disastrous year when Mr Mortimer in Fancy Goods and Notions had overstocked in novelty toothbrush holders and was left trying to sell them for years after. The departmental managers also generally struggled with staffing in December and January. Temporary staff were not as reliable as the regulars and those that promised to be in the day after Boxing Day frequently let them down. To be down in staff at sale time could be calamitous.

Barry Hughes and his team from Security were on red alert: Christmas was “showtime” for shop lifters. He patrolled the shop bestowing hard looks on innocent elderly ladies and unnerving upstanding members of the legal profession doing last minute Christmas shopping for their wives and secretaries. Meanwhile, gangs of thieves casually lifted items at will quite unnoticed until the shop closed. Wails of shock could be heard as staff in various departments suddenly realised that choice items were missing: each had thought that another had sold the articles concerned. Mr McElvey and Barry had many an uncomfortable meeting around that time.

However, Christmas was not such a fraught time for younger members of staff. Miss Collins from Perfumery and Miss Glover from China and Glass positively revelled in it. Childlike, they had rushed to see the giant Christmas tree that so mysteriously appeared overnight in the Grand Hall the month before. They nagged and nagged fruitlessly at the younger male staff who had been involved in its enigmatic arrival. The secret of the Christmas tree was kept from generation to generation. The youngsters loved the atmosphere generated in the store by the excited customers and enjoyed being busy. The days rushed by and they were tired out by evening. Not tired out enough however, to plan for the annual staff party in the Canteen. Great discussions went on regarding crucial topics such as what to wear, who should speak to who and all the usual excitements of youngsters in anticipation of such festivity.

As the great day drew nearer, the shop became busier and busier. The tills rang out a merry tune (almost merry enough to cheer up Mr McElvey.) The stock reduced visibly in each department. Barry and his men patrolled on trusting no one and suspecting everyone.

The shoplifting continued unabated.

Down on the shop floor, Miss Collins and Miss Glover’s excitement reached fever pitch. Would Flash Harry Ferguson take the opportunity to pop the question under the Christmas tree after the staff party? Miss Collins, could hardly contain her excitement.

Eventually, on the 24th December, the bell rang to intimate that the shop would close in five minutes. As the last customers trailed out the whole store heaved an almost audible sigh of relief. It was over. The Christmas rush was finally over and the staff in the various departments throughout the building had time to draw breath for a short while before the desperate days of the January sales assailed them.

Upstairs in the Board Room, Miss Murray and Mrs Pegram allowed themselves a small sherry under the disapproving eyes of the paintings of old Mr Murray and (very) old Mr Murray. Mr McElvey wanted to see the final sales figures before he allowed himself to relax sufficiently to enjoy a vintage Amontillado. Mr Soames and Mr Philipson, the other directors, joined the ladies. Barry Hughes from Security, entering the room in a rush grasped a glass then tried to stand as near as possible to Mrs Pegram who, herself shifted almost imperceptibly away from him. They all felt the need to gather strength before venturing tentatively into the staff canteen where the party would be held. Already the sounds of excited staff members swelled audibly as people arrived up from their departments.

Eventually, Mr McElvey burst into the Board Room grasping a sheet of paper. “We’ve done it!” he called out in extremely uncharacteristic excitement. “We’ve beaten our record year of 1977!”

“Excellent news Ian. Well done everyone,” said Miss Murray looking round at her management team. “Now let’s go and share that with the staff.”

He sighed. It had to be done.

Visibly gathering themselves, they walked across the landing to the canteen door. Music was thumping out but over that they could hear ragged cheers and burst of “For they are jolly good fellows.”

Frowning slightly Miss Murray pushed open the door and was almost repelled by the wall of noise, heat and excitement that hit her. A flushed Miss Glover passing by the door turned back and croaked drunkenly,

“Hiya Miss Murray! He’s done it again. Harry’s engaged again. It’s Christmas,” and weaved her way uncertainly at the agitated urgings of the China dept. staff.

Miss Murray looked at Mrs Pegram with raised eyebrows and sighed. Flash Harry Ferguson proposed to another girl? Another Christmas tradition at Murrays.

 

 

Murrays, Department Store of Distinction, wishes all our customers (and readers) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Bad things for Good Reasons

 

Life’s just not fair is it? Why is it that sometimes people try hard all their lives to do the right things then blow it big style- but for goOur Best Attention  cover 2od reasons?

This is a theme I explore in one of the chapters of my forthcoming novel “Our Best Attention”. In it, a woman with a lifetime of struggle and hard work in an unhappy situation, resolves to take an action that is, in fact, a virtual taboo in our culture. It was easy enough to write, in fact the story tumbled out. I found the character concerned to be likeable and pitiable in equal proportions and her predicament rested on almost Victorian circumstances. An echo from the past ringing forward into the 1970s in an uncomfortable way.

This chapter has been read by a number of people and the different reactions to it are striking: male readers tend to dislike it intensely. One found it “too bleak”, another that the central character was “evil and depraved.” Neither was intended. However, female readers, perhaps reacting to the central unfairness of the character’s life, were much more sympathetic. More typical comments were, “that poor woman,” and “what a shame.” That was the reaction that I had hoped to elicit when writing the story. It was certainly how I had felt as the story wrote itself.

Maybe the male reader tends to see bad as bad and the female reader sees beyond the action to the back story: to the whys and hows of life rather than just the whats? A sweeping generalisation of course for which I apologise. Can’t wait to hear more comments on the story after publication though!

What matters? Who for? What does it mean?

 

 

When you’re reading a book what matters most to you? Is it the characters? Location, location, location? Or a compelling storyline? Is it a winning, though rare, combination of all three?

How do you know in advance whether you’ll like a book enough to take the step of opening it and entering into it? Of paying for it, downloading it or taking it out from the library. It’s a risk of course. It’s all a risk. You could have been misled by a good cover, intriguing blurb on the back or previous experience of the writer’s work.

One aspect that can be overlooked is not the part of the writer but that of the reader: the consumer of this product that is a book. The reader’s literacy level may be variable, as can concentration span, time available for reading and reason for looking for something to read.

Sometimes people need to escape into a different, soothing world. Sometimes readers want to be entertained, frightened, intrigued, educated or distracted. The reasons for reading are as innumerable as the readers and may relate strongly to their mood.

So what does this mean for the poor writer simultaneously trying to tick all these boxes?

Just do it! Its all you can do.