"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

All material on SHIMMERCASTDREAMS copyright of Marie Bruce and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

WRITER'S DREAM; Start A Pillow Book

Take your writing to bed with you...

Image from www.artcentergallery.com

Have you ever heard of a Pillow Book?  It is similar to a diary or journal, being a collection of personal musings, secret thoughts, verse etc.  It is a type of free-writing, where you allow the pen to say whatever is on your mind, but in a very lyrical, creative style.  It is not a rendition of what you did that day or a list of appointments, but a review of your emotional state now that the day is drawing to a close. It might even be a work of fiction, in that you re-write the day/ the relationship/ the argument as you wish it had turned out.

I have always believed that writing is a healing art; a form of therapy that we can administer to ourselves as and when we need it.  It is no accident that lots of young girls begin to write their first diary during puberty, when their bodies are going through massive changes and they need a place to keep all the emotional turmoil.
Psychotherapists often suggest journaling as a way for people to deal with stress, trauma and life changes such as divorce or bereavement, because it helps the client to heal and move forward.

Of course you needn't be traumatized to start creating a pillow book; you can begin one anytime, but if you are going through something then it's good to get it down on paper just to free up your head-space.  Take your troubles to the page, because the page will never let you down.  Don't worry about spelling or grammar, just write it all out.  

The beauty of a pillow book is that no-one else will ever read it - it is for your eyes only, so you are free to say anything you choose...all those natural feelings that society would frown upon if you spoke them out loud.  In a pillow book its okay to admit that  you  dislike your children sometimes; or you feel angry with a parent or spouse for becoming ill and turning you into an unpaid nurse; or that you sometimes have vengeful thoughts towards your ex-partner...in a pillow book you can write it all down, exactly as you feel it; you can fictionalize it or turn it into a poem, but you will always know where it came from and what aspect of your life inspired that particular piece. You can celebrate the joyful events too and have a party on the page!

As you get into the habit of taking your emotions to the page something extraordinary begins to take place within you - your sense of clarity returns, your peace of mind is restored and you will feel more in control of your head-space.  Therapeutic writing can help to lessen anxiety, stress and worry, replacing these negative feelings with more positive ones such as tranquility, contentment and optimism.   This won't happen overnight, but if you maintain a pillow book for a whole year, you will begin to see the benefits.  Those close to you might also comment on how your general outlook on life has improved.  

How can a pillow book make you a writer?  Because it is the act of writing that makes a writer.  All authors draw upon their own personal life experience, so by having the courage to explore your emotions in a pillow book you are documenting rich material for future projects.  The ability to turn the darkest, most painful human experience into something beautiful is what makes someone an artist.  And if nothing else, keeping a pillow book will get you into the habit of writing daily, or at least, frequently.

To begin with, find a notebook you love and a pen that feels comfortable to write with. You might also want to use a book of writers prompts to get you started - Artist Dates by Julia Cameron; The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron or The Wolf In Your Bed, a Kindle book by Jill Harris all offer suitable material to work with.  Most prompts only want you to write for about 10 minutes, so it is easy to fit into a bedtime routine. Or just write for 10 minutes about anything that is on your mind, anything you feel bubbling up...let it out through your pen.

Now get into the habit of going to bed a few minutes earlier, take a cup of cocoa or something with you, settle in, pick up you pillow book and write.  Soon enough your pillow book will become  a much treasured possession. It is a conversation with your Higher Self  and you will enjoy spending time exploring the relationship you are building with the page...this is what it means to be a writer.

In Wicca we have a saying that sums it up; Witch, know thyself!
It is as true for writers as it is for witches. Enough said.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

WRITER'S DREAM; Moving With the Times

I wonder what Jane Austen would think of her novels being on Kindle?

The landscape of the publishing industry is changing at a very fast pace.  When I first started out as a hopeful writer, as then unpublished, parceling up my submissions and walking to the post office with all the nervous jitters of attending a job interview, I could hardly have imagined how quickly publishing would change. After all, it had essentially remained the same for centuries - how could I possibly guess that the biggest overhaul of the industry would take place during my own writing career?

Not long after signing my first publishing contract, email submissions became the preference of editors - it has to be said that this is due in part to the fact that emails are easier to delete and ignore and are therefore more cost effective for Houses dealing with masses of submissions each week.  It also means that new writers have little chance of using gimmicks to make their submission stand out from the crowd.  Gimmicks are frowned upon. The writing must speak for itself.  If it doesn't, rejection is sure to follow, so with email submissions the writing has to be stellar.

Publication is always a relief for any aspiring writer.  It is the start of a new career, where the real work actually begins.  It is amazing to see the words you have labored over for so many months, printed as a book with your own name on the cover, spine, blurb and most importantly, the copyright notice.  It is such a thrill to see your book sat proudly on the bookshelves of your favourite bookshops; to meet and greet your readers, to receive fan mail and yes, to get paid for the joy of being a published author.  It really is the very best feeling in the world.

As your name becomes known, other aspects of the media industry come calling...press, radio and TV.  You will be asked to give interviews; your publishing contract will probably contain a Publicity Clause that states you will be required to make yourself available for promotional interviews to help the book sell - and it is unlikely that you will be paid any extra for this aspect of the job. It is all free promotion for your book - all you have to do is turn up, smile and answer the questions.  It's like being interviewed for the job you already have - that of published author - rather than a job you are hoping to get.

As the world went digital I watched in trepidation as first the music industry and then publishing were re-formed, re-shaped and re-packaged for the Technological Age.  I must confess that I am still quite wary of the changes; it all feels too fast; too much too soon, like a relationship that is running away with you against your better judgment.   I was still thrilled beyond measure that my work was being published at all; that I was an author of books, when I was suddenly informed of plans to make my work available digitally, as ebooks. I think I was expected to be thrilled.  I wasn't thrilled to begin with, but in hindsight I think I was just afraid that digital books would crash and burn and take my career along for the ride.

In fact, the opposite has happened.  It is happening right now, as I type, as you read these words.  People all over the world are changing the way they read and enjoy books.  The Technological Age has made books available in 1 click, from anywhere with WIFI.   Books have gone digital.  The top Houses are all on board; the smaller Houses have discovered how cost effective ebook publishing is in comparison to hard copy publishing...and let's face it, if publishing didn't move with the times we would all be reading scrolls!

My own career was high-jacked by the ebook trend some time ago.  Of course I was worried, but I needn't have been.  This is way the industry is going and I would have to be nuts not to want to be a part of it. These days I am even commissioned to write features for digital ebook only spin offs of traditional magazines and publications.  I have the best of both worlds.  I write for both types of publication, digital and hard copy.

Being a traditionalist I will always prefer the feel of an actual book in my hands, or a CD in my collection. Digital feels too whimsical, too ethereal for me to grasp.  I love walking into my study and seeing rows and rows of books on shelves; I love walking into a bookshop and seeing my own books on the shelves; I love the feel of a CD case as I read the track list, or slip out the sleeve notes...yet, at the same time I am delighted that my own album Moon Chants is available to download in iTunes.

Even so, space issues in my tiny house have forced me to purchase a Kindle...what the hell, my own books are already on there, I might as well have a bloody look!  I wasn't expecting to be totally seduced, but I think I have been.  I downloaded a new novel in a matter of seconds, without going out in the rain to the bookshop, without searching for a parking space; while I was still in bed, drinking my coffee, in fact.  Then I downloaded my favourite classics - for free.  I wonder what the Bronte's would think of that?

I will always prefer 'real' books, but it is wonderful to know that I can take a whole library of novels with me on holiday to Oban, in my handbag on my Kindle.  It made me smile to finally see my own work in Kindle format!   I have tried to remain true to my love of traditional publishing by putting my Kindle in a Pride & Prejudice Kindle cover...so it looks just like one of my much loved classics.  This is comforting to my romantic sentiments and it makes my techno-phobic soul sleep easier in her bed at night, after reading a few digital pages.

I really do feel like I have the best of both worlds, as a writer and as a reader. And yes, I think that Jane Austen and the fabulous forward-thinking Bronte sisters would approve.
BB Marie x

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Feeling inspired by beautiful knitwear ...
My grandmother was a big knitter.  Every autumn she would set to work kitting out the whole family  in winter scarves, jumpers and cardigans.  She was a fast hand knitter and she loved using her knitting machine too. I can remember sitting on the floor at her knees as she taught me how to knit when I was a little girl.  I had my own pair of red child size knitting needles and a small red work box - I still have the work box, though the knitting needles were lost along with childhood.   Eventually I got the hang of it but I will never have the same level of knitting skill that my grandmother had and that my mother has too so I can only make quite simple things.

When I was about 10 years old I decided to rebel against knitting by teaching myself how to crochet with the help of a library book. My grandmother couldn't crochet, nor could my mother so I felt like I had something to prove in teaching myself.  Once I had acquired the skill I taught my best friend and my mum how to crochet too, passing on the needle craft just as my grandmother had taught me how to knit. 

It has been years and years since I indulged in any wool craft; the last thing I made was a baby blanket for my nephew who is now in his mid teens, so it's been a while!  Just recently though, as the weather turns colder and the nights grow darker, I have been yearning for the feel of the yarn at my fingertips.  I am greatly inspired by the beautiful knitted scarves, snoods and wrist warmers on the Hush website but I don't want to just buy a woolly scarf - I want the pleasure of making one for myself.

I want to enjoy the process of sitting with my feet up before the fire, watching TV and plying the needles and yarn; creating something unique that cannot be bought in the shops.  So I drove down to the little wool shop where my Mum and Nan always purchased their knitting supplies.  It hasn't changed a bit and stepping inside is still like walking into the very heart of a rainbow with brightly coloured yarns stacked in high shelves right up to the ceiling.  I purchased  three 100g balls of soft  wool in a creamy cappuccino shade, which cost less than a fiver and I started to crochet myself a scarf as soon as I got home.  I knew I would need something to occupy me after the dental operation I had on Friday so a crochet project was ideal. I plan to make matching wrist warmers too...and all for less than five pounds! 

There was a time when almost all women could knit, sew and crochet etc. It is one of the feminine arts but these days needle craft seems to be a dying art form and there are lots of teens and twenty-somethings who wouldn't know how to handle a pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook.  It is a shame that such skills seem to be diminishing in modern society.  I'm really grateful that my grandmother took the time to teach me how to knit, and that I taught myself to crochet in the spirit of independence.  It is a skill you only need to learn once and then you will have it for the rest of your life. In addition you can make something totally unique, at a fraction of the cost of a shop bought mass produced garment and it is such a cosy way to spend an evening, curled up in an armchair, or tucked into bed working the needles, hook and yarn.

Monday, 9 September 2013

IVORY TOWER; Tabletop Trinkets

These are a few of my favourite things...

A collection of treasures to remind me of my travels

Call of the Sea... a vase of sea shells from Whitby, North Yorkshire coast

Wise Owl... this mirrored, filigree winged owl was from Strathpeffer in the Scottish Highlands last year 

Thistle Down Dreams...and this blown glass thistle was purchased back in 2001 from Gretna Green as I returned from my very first holiday in Strathpeffer

Fallen Leaf...this tea light holder was from Sherwood Forest

Crystal heart...from a winter fair, purchased when I was 16 years old


Sunday, 8 September 2013


Soon the leaves will start to fall...

It is a damp grey day outside and there is the first tang of autumn in the air.  The birds have been busy in the garden this past week, feeding up ready for their long flight of migration. Indoors  I am tucked away in my crimson study, sat at my beautiful escritoire desk, happily typing away as I write this blog post.  Candles are flickering, the scent of Yankee's Sparkling Cinnamon filling the study with rich, spicy fragrance and Blackberry Musk oil is simmering in the burner in the kitchen downstairs. Between them they make the whole house smell like a country barn at harvest time. 

It is almost summer's end.  The days are already growing shorter, the nights drawing in.  Last night someone was setting off fireworks and the scent of gunpowder still lingers, reminding me that it is my time of year once more...the dark season...six months of dense shadows, swirling mists and thick fog; of grey rainy days and winds that strip the leaves and dead wood from trees, revealing their skeletal beauty.  Golden autumn brings with it a freshness that encourages a new beginning and next week I start night school.  I am very excited by this and by the new opportunities it will bring. A new sense of possibility has me in its grip.  A change is as good as a rest. 

In preparation I have spent today writing hard, getting a head start on upcoming deadlines, writing and filing my Spirit&Destiny column and making notes for features that still need to be written.  It will be fun to juggle my work from home life as a professional writer with my new life as a mature student.  I have already been revising from my old psychology text books to give myself a head start and familiarize myself with the lingo once more. So it has been a busy few days.

As the seasons shift I've enjoyed some autumnal treats such as sweet caramel lattes and crunchy parkin biscuits.  I have been out picking fresh blackberries for my mother so that she can bake pies and crumbles. I've put away my sandals and pulled out my snuggly boots.  I've taken to wearing cosy cable knit socks in the evenings once more instead of wandering around barefoot.  I've dusted off my figure skates as I am hoping to make time for the rink.  I have stocked up on  refills for the Plug-ins in autumnal scents of Cinnamon Sticks, Pumpkin Spice and Crackling Fire & Log Cabin.  Finally, I have purchased four beautiful new winter dresses from www.hush-uk.com  ready for my Highland retreat to Oban in a few weeks time.

As the afternoon begins to wane towards evening I plan on soaking in a Ginger & Shea Butter bubble bath, then snuggling down to watch Black Swan with a glass of Dark Berry cider. 
I think it's safe to say that I have opened the door and welcomed the Spirit of Autumn into my house!
How do you welcome the dark season?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

BOOK NOOK; Witch Hunt by Syd Moore

A great spooky read for chilly autumn nights.
As the summer draws to a close and the first chill of autumn scents the air, I am always drawn to spooky ghost stories and witchy tales.  I came across Witch Hunt by Syd Moore on Amazon, recommended to me because I bought Pamela Hartshorne's Time's Echo  and because I buy a lot of Barbara Erskine and Susanna Kearsley time-slip novels.

Witch Hunt  tells the story of  Sadie Asquith, an Essex journalist researching local witch hunts of the past for a book and a series of articles she is writing.  As she delves into the past, the tormented souls of lost witches begin to haunt her and she discovers a link between the Essex exploits of Mathew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and the witch trails in America that culminated at Salem.  She becomes convinced that Hopkins found some way to skip town and set up a fresh branch of his evil business across the Pond.  As she uncovers more about Hopkins and her own links to the Essex witch trials, Sadie is determined to bring about a modern pardon and justice for those executed for witchcraft centuries before.

What I found most interesting about this novel is the approach the author has taken in dealing with the atrocities of the witch trials.  Moore doesn't subscribe to the popular view of Hopkins as a misguided religious fanatic who believed he was doing God's work.  Instead, she pulls his crimes firmly into the 21st century mind-set, dealing with them in a modern way and thereby presenting Mathew Hopkins as a sexual predator and serial killer.  This approach lends the novel something of a murder mystery or crime thriller polish and there is certainly a mystery to be uncovered beneath the ghostly atmosphere.

To back up this viewpoint, Moore makes parallels with other serial killers and modern day witch hunts that are still going on in certain parts of the world, illustrating the fact that witch hunts are not just a sensationalized aspect of history, but are very much a part of current society.   It is a chilling notion and one of those novels that makes the reader rethink the subject matter.  The questions that the protagonist, Sadie, struggles with are quite intriguing; What if Hopkins really did start the Salem witch trials; What if he had a family in the US; What if descendants of Hopkins returned to Britain with political ambitions to gain a powerful position in Westminster?  Would the witch hunts begin again or would amends be made?

All this in woven deep into the plot lines of  a sophisticated ghost story and supports the overall story arc. There are some lighter hearted moments (I laughed out loud at the naughty Spoonerism on page 11) and an effective use of chapter hooks that kept me turning the pages.  For readers with ambitions to write there is a pretty accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a freelancer writing for magazines and as that's my job it made me relate even more to the main character.  Overall this is a thought-provoking novel and a great read for the darker nights...but watch out for the moths!