Animal Crackers?

Crackers about animals? Well yes I am. Just as I can’t imagine life without them, I couldn’t imagine not writing some animal characters into the book: “Our Best Attention.”

In Chapter 1 Bluebell, Miss Murray’s cat, already displays behaviour familiar to all cat lovers: affection and dignity, as well as a determination to outwit Mrs Glen the housekeeper (not a cat fan!)

Sabre, the diminutive security dog , written about in Chapter 8 is a particular favourite.He’s an uneasy mixture of Dachshund and Corgi who happily accompanies his timid master through the dark of night at Murray’s. He doesn’t mind Stan having to sing hymns loudly to stave off terrors. Undoubtedly he’s that poor man’s best friend.

Meanwhile in Chapter 15, Henry the Mynah bird, while not strictly speaking an animal, is a big personality. He delights in whistling and singing “Scotland the Brave” while also terrifying pensioners by his extremely accurate impressions of an elderly person swearing floridly. A bird in a million.

Of the other animals I’ll say no more but will leave them for readers to discover for themselves.

Already in Book 2 currently in production, I have included several animals: a little Birman cat called Yum Yum and a black and white collie with depression. More will undoubtedly follow.


A Word from the Readers

letterOur Best Attention has been fortunate in receiving positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads which is very reassuring. However, many readers don’t actually get round to writing formal reviews. Its hard to know why this might be.  Some of them might feel intimidated and aren’t confident enough to put their views in print, others may not be very computer savvy and are unsure how to go about this. However, it has been gratifying to receive a number of emails and letters from people who have enjoyed the book. Here is a selection of their comments. Some brought a tear to my eye! Here’s a selection:

“I absolutely love your book!  Almost finished and, yes, I recognized X right away! You have captured the essence, atmosphere and intricacies of the department store we knew perfectly! I adore your prose, your descriptive words are just that…..I can “see” who I am reading about, the place I am reading about, hear the person speaking. Well done you! In to second print already,  wow!”

“I have read the book and broke my own rule of only reading a chapter at bedtime. I struggled to put it down. In many ways I feel that this book is similar to some of Maeve Binchy books. The chapters introduce a new character that I hope will be re introduced in later books as with Maeve’s characters. I especially loved the visit to the footwear department!!! That could have been me as a youngster. Keep writing – I await the swift publication of the next book.”

“I really enjoyed the book. It had great characters in it and you felt as if you really knew them well. I loved the style, with the common thread running throughout it. I guess because I know X, I know how well you described it. My Nana worked there as a young girl as a model, in the days when ladies did not try on their own clothes, the ‘Third Miss Patterson’ would have loved that! Think she was my favourite character, although I loved Martin too and think that I can easily identify with his critical eye for others clothes”

“I love the book when I heard it had no violence and sex I thought this is not for me but it has transported me back to when I first came to Scotland. I would catch the bus from Currie and visit all those wonderful department stores. I had a friend who worked in one of them and her stories are all there. She died several years ago but your book makes me feel as if I am having a conversation with her. Thank you”


Of course not everyone enjoyed the book. The rather sour comments from a student reviewer were found to be incomprehensible by people who had read the book. Phew!!


Who will call me Madam Now?

Jenners image 

Whatever happened to the good old fashioned department stores of yore? The ones where they called you madam and there were delicate little chairs at each counter for madam to perch on as she discussed her order with the attentive black- dressed assistant.

The ones where you could buy (and have delivered) anything from a pin to a grand piano with everything and anything else in between. Such department stores used to be found in every large town and city throughout the country. In Cardiff there was Howells, in Bradford Brown, Muff and Co, Manchester had Kendal Milne. London had several including Harrods of course, as well as Liberty’s, Whitely’s and Dickins and Jones.

A few, a brave few of these traditional department stores, do remain although almost as tourist attractions and tending to be owned by large overseas conglomerates rather than the families who used to own and run them.

I well remember the thrill of entering a large department store in Edinburgh: the door was swung wide for us by a uniformed commissionaire who touched his cap to my mother and gave every indication that she was known to him and her custom appreciated. She nodded regally. I was impressed. I was even more impressed when taken for a half term treat of lunch in the dining room of a large Glasgow department store. While we consumed our meal, beautiful models wandered coolly around the tables in a range of expensive outfits and elegantly displayed key features such as velvet lapels or fan pleated skirts for our awed pleasure. These shops did more than sell goods: they sold us on luxury and pleasure: they made us feel special.

Often beautiful, these old shops were almost theatrical in ambience. It was only when I began to work in one as a summer job in the 1970s that I realised that there was very much a backstage and a front of house. I could see clearly that the assistants were performing a role for the public but also that they had stories of their own. Each department was a venue for a drama, each customer and staff member a potential audience or actor. Of course, this potential had already been spotted and used by the 1970s sitcom “Are you being served” but, with its focus purely on comedy, a great deal was overlooked.

We had such fun there despite what now seem incredibly outdated rules and regulations. We weren’t allowed to sit down, forbidden to fold our arms and banned from saying “Can I help you” to customers (too off-putting apparently.) The senior sales assistants (but not us juniors) were on commission and earned a massive 1p in every £2.40! The January sales were a time to dread: just looking at the tidal wave of ladies intent on bargains rushing down the department towards us was terrifying. This was mitigated by the laughs we had: calling each other ridiculous names in front of customers without smiling, sabotaging tasteful displays, treasure hunts around departments, complicated April fools tricks, and other examples of youthful exuberance. I’m sure the Gransnetters have many similar tales as customers and staff.


Why did these lovely stores decline from the late 1960s to 70s? Was it because we were seduced away by the proliferation of “boutiques” for our trendy clothing? The explosion of very modern chain stores on our high streets? Were the old department stores too hopelessly difficult to update? Most likely a combination of all these in conjunction with the dire economic times prevailing.

I miss them now there is nowhere left to call me madam.




Our Best Attention around and about

What next after the incredible launch of the book last week?

Well I’m going on a small tour presenting at various locations

So far booked:

  • 3rd February: Corstorphine library 6.30pm
  • 1th Feb: Mayfield Court 3.00pm
  • 8th February: Mothers Union St Ninian’s Church  Stockbridge 2.00pm
  • 8th March: Corstorphine WI. 2.00pm
  • 6th April: West Fife Farm Women’s Club 6.30pm
  • 12th April: Howgate WI. 7.00pm
  • 15th April: ‘Gransnet’ conference, Edinburgh 2.00pm
  • 21st April : Ratho library 6.30
  • 3rd May: Danderhall Library
  • 17th May: Loanhead Library
  • 25th May: U3A writing group

I have other bookings too just waiting for exact confirmation as to date/time. I’ll post them as they are clarified.

If you’d like me to come and talk at/to your group please contact me on Tell your friends!


Oh what a night!

14th January 2016 at Blackwells bookshop Edinburgh was the place to be. What for? The launch of “Our Best Attention” of course.

There was a huge turn out of family and friends but also, scarily, lots of people who had booked via Blackwells and Eventbrite : strangers!  However the evening got off to a good start with an intro by Gordon Lawrie publisher supremo at Comely Bank Publishing then Q&A with that Jane Tulloch wifey. i.e. me. Banter commenced! Many points were covered including the ups and downs of the writing and publishing process.

A terrific and unexpected development was the contribution from the floor  of all sorts of reminiscences of times in a large old fashioned department store like the Murrays one featured in “Our Best Attention.” We heard about deliveries above and beyond the call of duty and the dark times of a scone thief!

The book signing that followed went on for longer than I’d believed possible and it was most enjoyable meeting and talking to the lovely people that bought books. Lots and lots of books. Thank you readers, Blackwells, and most of all, Gordon and Emma from Comely Bank Publishing.

Happy New Year

Baz is looking so cheerful because the new year is off to a flying start: the book will be published on Monday 11th January and the formal launch will be at Blackwells bookshop, 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh on Thursday 14th January. Over 100 people have booked in so we’re in for a busy evening. It is wonderful to think that so many people are interested in “Murrays- department store of distinction!”

The book is now also available for download on Amazon.

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!