Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Sunday Interview – Getting to Know You 2019

Sally Cronin is continuing her Sunday interview series offering writers a chance to answer questions designed to allow her readers a glimpse into the real you behind the books and blogs.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the Sunday Interview – Getting to Know You 2019

The return of the Sunday interview is about to start next week with three guests already lined up for January. I hope that you will accept my invitation to participate in the this year’s interviews.

As writers we tend to share aspects of our work in interviews, such as our blog posts, books and characters, and that is very important. However, sometimes we don’t get to share some of the other aspects of our personalities.

In last year’s Getting to Know You interviews we found out some different and very interesting facts about authors and bloggers that we bump into every day here and on social media. It was a lot of fun..

**If you would like to participate again.. no problem… just answer five different questions from your first interview.

There are over 50 questions to choose from…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Walking off the mince pies #2

Happy New Year to everyone!

In a determined effort to walk off the mince pies the DH and I decided on a fairly rigorous (for us) New Year’s Day hill climb. Criffel is one of those hills, practically on the doorstep that you intend to climb and never get round to it. January 1st was a gorgeous, gloriously sunny day here in south west Scotland, we didn’t have anything else which needed to be done so there was no reason not to do it.

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Credit: Darrin Antrobus/Field near Maxwellfield, view towards Criffel

At 569m / 1867ft Criffel is by no means the highest of Dumfries and Galloway’s hills, but looks higher because of the way it rises up from the flat coastal around the Solway. It dominates the landscape and is the eighth most prominent hill in southern Scotland.

There’s a car park for walkers at Ardwall Mains, a farm about two miles from New Abbey. Leaving the car park, the route is well signed up a good footpath which climbs up through the trees. It crosses over a forest road continuing upwards, ever upwards with Craigrockall Burn tumbling down on our right.


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The view down to Kindar Loch with its islands and crannog, the Solway Firth and across to Cumbria is beautiful but I’m already puffing. Glad to stop for a photo opportunity, it’s  then my camera battery dies and we have to rely on the DH’s phone. When I check my watch and discover we’ve only been walking for about twenty minutes I’m worried. The printout of the route describes this part of the climb as ‘gentle’.


The DH has a much greater lung capacity than I have so he’s not bothered.

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At the end of the forestry where a gate heralds the finish of the well-constructed path we’ve been slogging up I insist on stopping for some coffee and a few dried apricots to fortify myself for what’s ahead.

As I sip my coffee I watch people coming down the hill. They look like they’re drunk, staggering and zig-zagging all over the place. Once we go through the gate, I understand. We now have to climb up a very muddy path. No, that’s not true; it’s actually endless bog and heather and it’s a real struggle.

I have to take frequent pauses to admire the view over Loch Kindar which is sparkling in the sun and Estuary beyond. 20190101_125617 (custom)

Looking up is not a good idea for the summit remains hidden. ‘Not far now,’ call out people coming back down the slope, looking a lot more cheerful than I do.  When I’ve paused for the twentieth time, the DH says it’s okay if I don’t want to carry on. ‘We can do it another day.’ No chance. I’m going to get there because I am not doing this again.

A couple overtakes us – everyone who started after us overtakes us – and the woman says she’s pretty sure it levels off soon. Says she’ll wave to us if she’s right. I give up watching for her wave and eventually they disappear from view.

Finally, we near the huge summit cairn – known as Douglas’s Cairn. Reputedly, one of the Douglases, Earls of Morton, was buried underneath it but it is more likely to be simply a marker cairn.

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Looking back to the cairn from the trig point.


It’s even squelchier between it and the trig point a short distance away. And it’s bitterly cold. Convinced my feet are wet, I remove a boot to discover my socks are bone dry although my feet are numb.

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We’re still learning how to take selfies – but getting better.

We have another coffee while we admire the superb views all around: the Solway Firth, river estuaries and the English Lake District, with Skiddaw nodding over at Criffel. It’s too cold to linger and we set off back down. Now, it’s our turn to do the zigzag walk in an attempt to avoid the worst bits of bog.

The DH has had a problem with an ulcer in his ankle and can’t wear his proper walking boots or it opens up again so he is wearing his special walking crocs. These have done sterling service all over the mountains of La Gomera, on long country walks here but Riffle’s mud proved too much. His feet suddenly slid from under him and down he went – not once, not twice but, ‘I’m trying to keep it so single figures,’ he says as he goes down for the ninth time.

Unfortunately, the tenth time he goes down, one of his crocs vanishes into the bog. It disappears without a trace. Until then, I’d been laughing and wishing my camera battery hadn’t died but the thought of having to go to the car, fetch fresh footwear and climb back up, stopped that. Using his walking poles – both by now quite bent – he fished around in the various holes the croc might have gone down. It would be a great place to dispose of a body – though getting it up there would be difficult. I suppose you’d have to commit the murder in situ. By some miracle he found the croc.

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Once on the dry path again, his crocs and socks washed in the burn, we made good progress back to the car park. I’m glad I can say I have climbed Criffel but I don’t intend to do it again any time soon. I reckon I walked off both the mince pies and the Christmas pudding!

MarySmith’sPlace – Banned burials

Amberley Publishing has a blog on its website to which authors are invited to contribute posts connected to their published books. I wrote this post after Secret Dumfries was published and it was put up the other day. Although it’s not a Christmas-related post, I thought I’d share it for those interested in past burial rites and church history. When burials in churches were banned in Scotland.


One of my favourite parts of Secret Dumfries was a quote from Alf Truckell’s preface to the 1928 edition of McDowall’s History of Dumfries. He gave a colourful and somewhat startling account of events in the year 1607, taken from the town’s Privy Council records: ‘A man tries to strangle a boy with a garter and throws him in the Mill Dam in March: the King’s messenger comes through the town in May, to find the inhabitants dressed in green and armed for the May Play: a couple of Baillie’s sons take up the cry “a Lorebourne”, their fathers repeat it: shots are fired and horses wounded: the Messenger and his men flee: church burials have been outlawed some years before, a family break open the church door with tree-trunks and bury a dead relative within, whereupon another family hurry home, grab a corpse, and bury it, and a third family dig up an uncle and are about to bury him when the Law finally turns up…’

I was especially intrigued by the references to church burials and how determined people were to defy the law and bury their relatives within the church itself. I had no time to do further research into when and why burials inside churches became illegal.

I read the extract at the launch of Secret Dumfries and was delighted when someone emailed me a part of an article from a magazine which said The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland outlawed church burials, which it deemed idolatrous, in 1576. Anyone breaking the new rule could be suspended from the church until they repented publicly (did they have to remove the body?) and minsters who allowed the practice would also be suspended.


St Mary’s Church (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing) Photo credit: Keith Kirk Photographer

There were other good reasons for discontinuing the burial of bodies within the church. Before the Reformation wealthy and influential people such as the lairds (landed estate owners) were buried inside the church – sometimes beneath the family pew. This reduced the space available for the congregation. Also, bodies were not always interred very deeply and the smell of decomposition would have been unpleasant to say the least. Parishioners sometimes brought their dogs to church and dogs like nothing better than to dig up bones.

I almost included a paragraph in Secret Dumfries saying this practice of sometimes shallow interment inside churches gave rise to the expression ‘stinking rich’. I’m so glad my word count was at its limit and I didn’t because, according to the website, apparently the expression only came into use in the twentieth century.

The 1576 act was repeated in 1588, 1631 and in 1643, which is probably a good indication of people’s resistance to it. One rather extreme, and unpleasant, example occurred in 1607 in Durisdeer, near Dumfries. Adam Menzies, laird of Enoch had buried his young son in his family’s aisle of the kirk. Sir James Douglas, a staunch Presbyterian, of Drumlanrig had servants dig up the child’s body and rebury it in a shallow grave away from the church. Adam Menzies and his wife, who had just had another child, were understandably very upset. Despite being attacked by the minister, he reburied his son’s body in the kirk and appealed to the Privy Council. Although he was breaking the law regarding burials inside a church, the Privy Council took his side, allowing his child to remain in the family’s burial aisle.

As for the family who used tree trunks to break down the door in the Dumfries church and set off a chain reaction as quoted at the start of this article, I was very pleased to learn his identity. According to Maureen M. Meikle in her book, The Scottish People 1490-1625, it was a John Irving who wanted to bury his mother.

Secret Dumfries provides a fascinating glimpse into the lesser known aspects of the town’s history

Available here


Why The Bloggers Bash Is Like Bathing In Chocolate

Find out why attending the Bloggers Bash is like bathing in chocolate (I think Geoff shoudl have added the word warm before chocolate) – and why you should book your ticket for an amazing day with bloggers from all over the world.

The Annual Bloggers Bash

Bloggers Bash GeoffWhen I began blogging, nearly five years ago, I had one plan and several assumptions. The plan was to provide a vehicle for my writing – I had a book I wanted to publish and had heard that having a blog would be a good vehicle to ‘get my name out there’. I had no real idea how that might manifest itself and whether blogging was in fact the sort of thing someone like me- a novice writer with the conceit to think others might enjoy his writing.

You see, if I thought about blogging I thought about business people – serous professional people – producing serous professional stuff to a tight focused serous audience. Like the website at my law firm to which I contributed well researched, detailed pieces of dullness.

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2018 Christmas Charity Appeal – Help Me Raise £250 For The Dogs Trust By Leaving Me Links To Your Blogs And Books

Hugh and HughsViewsandNews has made a very generous offer to bloggers and authors as a way of raising funds for his favourite dog charity this Christmas. Do pop over to read all about it and take part.

Hugh's Views & News  

The Christmas tree is up, but something is missing. There are no gifts under it, and I need your help to put that right.

#christmastree #christmas #charity #dogstrust

For this year’s Christmas charity appeal, I’m asking you again to help me raise some money for The Dogs Trust.

The Dogs Trust, formerly known as the National Canine Defence League, is an animal welfare charity and humane society in the United Kingdom which specialises in the well-being of dogs. Click here to go to their website.

Want to get involved? Here’s what you need to do.

  1. In the comments section of this post, leave the name of your blog and a link to it. This can be a link to your ‘about me’ page, a favourite blog post you’ve published, or the home page of your blog.
  2. If you’re an author, you’re also welcome to leave a link to any books you have published. So, for example…

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Smorgasbord Christmas Celebrations – The First Day of Christmas with guests Mary Smith, Jacquie Biggar and John W. Howell

Along with authors John Howell and Jacquie Biggar I’m one of the first guests on Sally Cronin’s blog for her twelve days of festive fun with stories, songs, recipes – all things Christmassy.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas party where guests will share their best ever Christmas presents ever…and there will be food, drink and of course music and to get you into the spirit of the season.. here are some choristers with particular appeal..

I tried to remember the first Christmas that I was aware of as a child. I must have got the general idea of the concept of presents quite young as at age seven when we moved to Malta I began the practice of putting a pillowcase on the end of my bed from around mid-October…. I think this ticked my mother off somewhat because she sat me down at the beginning of December and told me that Father Christmas did not exist and that from now on I would have my presents around the tree like my two sisters who were in their…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Meet Bandit

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Life has become very busy – something to do with Christmas, maybe? Despite the fact it happens at the same time every year I, as usual, have been caught out. Following the sunset poetry walk and creative writing workshop I’ve done a poetry reading and a book signing – and signed a contract for a new book: Dumfries A-Z.

Bloggers everywhere seem to be incredibly organised with lots of Christmas-themed posts appearing every day. I’m struggling to keep up with reading and commenting on them, let alone write some for my own blog. As for preparations for the big day – well, I have bought some Christmas cards and some stocking fillers and have a vague idea of what we’ll eat. Next year will be different. It will. It really will. I shall start preparations in January (not for the food, obviously)

In the meantime, I thought you might like to meet Bandit, the cat who owns me. She seven years old and a total diva. I adopted her when her first servant left the country – not because of the cat’s behaviour. He named her Bandit. We weren’t sure why until we discovered what a total robbing bandit she can be if food is left out.


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Exposing your work, on #LisaBurtonRadio

If you are an author looking for ways to promote your books – for free – check out Lisa Burton’s interview with a number of prolific bloggers who provide lots of promotional opportunities for writers.

Entertaining Stories

Lisa Burton

Hi, all, and welcome to another edition of Lisa Burton Radio. This week is a special edition, because it’s geared to all you authors out there. It might give some good ideas to bloggers who want to host guests too.

Today, I’ve collected a group of power bloggers who host authors on their sites. This gives an author a way to reach a larger audience than they might if they were simply posting about date-night or something. This means when you have a new book to promote, or maybe to give an older title a secondary push.

We’re going to start by addressing the three-hundred-pound gorilla in the room, and I mean that literally. Chris The Storyreading Ape, hosts one of the largest author blogs around. “Did you get my fruit basket, Chris?”

“Yes I did thanks, Lisa – very thoughtful of you to use edible leaves to weave the…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Sunset poetry walk update

Yesterday afternoon/evening, Keith Kirk and I led a dozen participants (the event was limited to 12 people so it was actually a sell-out) on the sunset poetry walk organised as part of CatStrand’s Inspiring Writers project, Ken Words.

CatStrand is a multi-arts centre in the heart of Dumfries & Galloway, which offers an amazing programme of music, theatre, cinema, dance and visual arts as well as being a venue for all manner of classes and workshops. They draw a wonderful and eclectic list of performers: Judie Tzuke who headlines Glastonbury, The Unthanks and pop icon Kiki Dee – all this in a village with a population of less than 350.

Inspiring Words brings all CatStrand’s literature-focused events and activities under one umbrella. Events include writers Margaret Elphinstone and James Robertson in conversation about their historical fiction; film and poetry workshops, and events such as the sunset poetry walk.

Our sunset poetry walk took place on the Threave Estate and it was fabulous. It was cold – very cold – but crucially, it was a clear evening, didn’t rain and we did get to see the sun setting.

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You can tell this is my photo and not one of Keith’s. Sigh.

We also saw starlings gathering before they flew off to join the great murmuration which takes place just outside the town. Keith has uploaded some fantastic photos and videos  on Facebook of the starlings. Keith pointed out a badger sett. We saw roe deer, heard – some of us – geese, listened to the River Dee.

We stood opposite the great bulk of Threave Castle while I gave a very brief potted history – a full account of the castle’s history, and more importantly, the stories of the Black Douglas dynasty would take up the entire time of the event. Threave walk (Custom)

We took longer than anticipated on the walk because everyone was so fascinated and had so many questions. Going for a walk in the countryside with Keith is a wonderful thing, especially as he is so happy to share his knowledge.

I have to say I found standing in silence in the deepening dark with a dozen people, all our senses tuning into the falling night, quite a moving experience.

A moving experience of a different kind occurred as we walked back to the visitor centre and encountered a herd of young cows which was not there when we set out. They had wandered onto our path – for some reason they were in a field with no gate – and had to be moved to allow us to continue.

Back at the visitor centre tea and shortbread were produced by the event organiser, Jane McBeth and Andrew Mellor while the serious work of translating the experiences into words.

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I will never wear this jacket again! That’s all padding, honest. Jacket padding!

What was really special was that everyone – new writers, established poets, artists – enthusiastically took part in the workshop and everyone shared what they’d written with the group. Keith was astonished at how twelve people on the same walk together produced twelve very different accounts of their experiences.

At the end Jane handed out specially produced postcards of Keith’s sunset at Threave Castle photo,

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset, photo by Keith Kirk Photographer

with an envelope and stamp so that people can send in their edited work so that it is not lost – perhaps displayed on the walls at CatStrand or perhaps a poetry pamphlet?

We are already talking about repeating the event next year – in the summer.