Wednesday 27 October 2010


Where does all the time go? Well, actually it goes in writing stuff. I know most authors are so much better than I at maintaining a public profile, but I have to wonder if most of them have a two year old helping at the same time. (A two year old who is almost three!)

But to bring you up to date with what I have been doing recently and to show you some pretty pictures here is details on my new play out Nov 16th-20th, Burke. It's a different take on the story of Edinburgh's most famous serial killers. It doesn't feature Simon Pegg, but it is both laugh out loud funny in places and terrifying in others. After all, the dark times of the Old Town should SCARE you!

So in honor of Burke and Hare's final capture - which was on Halloween. Here's the details


Tuesday 13 July 2010

Poor neglected blog

A writer's blog is a strange animal. You might imagine it should be bursting with words and ideas, but if I'm writing here I'm not working. So when it's quiet here it doesn't mean I've stopped writing, but I'm writing more than ever.

Admittedly with the school summer holidays here that isn't always an easy task. Right now I'm typing while my toddler plays and watches a musical, rhyming show about rescuing small animals. It's a sort of baby aimed opera - and as bad as you might imagine to adult ears.

But dragging my mind back to the task at hand. I've reached the process in writing the play where I have written all the scenes and I'm about to check the ordering. It's the kind of freedom you don't get with longer prose projects, but with a six thousand word play you can metaphorically throw it all in the air and rewrite your linking lines.

Which of course shows how lucky we are to have access to wp. I've repeatedly heard the argument that wp means we have become lazy writers. We don't need to worry about ordering in story and construction because we can always change it.

But you know some of us have minds that don't happily follow linear order. I remember - and this shows you how very long ago it was - that I used to cut my draft university essays into paragraphs and then rearrange then on my bed before rewriting.

A play is exactly that - a play. It's about playing with the audiences assumptions and expectations. It's about teasing them, filtering through information drip by drip and only pulling it all together at the end when the pieces should snap together tighter than a toddler's grip on candy.

This is where I am - and because I'm writing a play based on very real events, it's hard to surprise and intrigue, but I'm working on it. I will remember to drop by here more. Honest.

Oh, and the little animals appear to have all been rescued, but it doesn't appear to have stopped them singing. Pity me.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Writing Plays

The last few weeks have been dedicated to the production of my first full length play, Suspicious Minds. I was working with the Edinburgh company Siege Perilous founded by talented director, Andrew Corelli and tireless producer, Tina Finch. The play ran between the 25th and 29th May and was an incredible experience all round. The cast, Colin Little, Ruth Tapp, Alan Scott-Douglas and Bill Addison were superb.

Writing a play is quite a different process to writing a novel. I've been writing prose since I could pick up a pencil. (I won't say since I could spell because I'm still not that good at that.) When I was in the later stages at Primary school I started writing plays. I enjoyed acting and ended up providing my own plots because I liked them better. Fortunately so did my classmates. And then I stopped. I didn't try to construct a play until about eight years ago when I attended a workshop run by playwright Douglas Maxwell. My intention was to improve my dialogue for prose writing. I was very sure I had no idea and no capacity to write a play. To my astonishment I wrote my first adult play, Pulse, and rather enjoyed the experience.

For me writing a play is about constructing a huge jigsaw in your head. You need to spend most of your time thinking. After all in most hour long plays there will be less than five thousand words, while novels range from 50,000 to 100,000 words.

So how long does it take me to write a play? I can date when I began Suspicious Minds from the book I wrote about my older son - How to Survive the Terrible Twos: Diary of a mother under siege. In it there is a point when my son, known in the book as the Emperor for obvious reasons, is experimenting with language. I become aware of how much he hears and picks up on a couple of occasion. Once when he wakes up in the morning and the first thing he says is, 'Uh-huh, thank dhu very much.' He'd been listening in on one of the first conversations my partner and I had had about the play. That was six years ago.

I should note here that having a supportive partner who will talk over ideas with you, read endless scripts, correct your swearing (I've never been good at swearing) and generally encourage you to keep going is the greatest asset any writer can have. (So thank you, Graham. Your help is always appreciated.)

Of course when I sat down and wrote the play in an afternoon I was extremely chuffed. I think it must have been the 14th or 15th version (some many years later) that I sent to Siege Perilous and was accepted. While I was working on it I completed a mentorship with the Playwrights Studio Scotland and have a great deal of help from the BBC Radio Scotland Drama Department (Thank you Kirsty!) I frequently called on the aid of the writer in residence at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh and most recently attended Zinnie Harris' excellent course that led to the formation of an Edinburgh playwright group and the 10 production at the Traverse as a showcase for all our work. All this helped me develop my playwrighting skill. I needed to learn about plays and construction before I could go on to break the rules.

Suspicious Minds moves about in time and frequently broke the fourth wall (between audience and actors). Writing a play is about finding your own voice and telling a story you'd like to watch. It's utterly different from writing a novel and exercises your creativity in a very different fashion.

You can read a review of the production here.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Euphemia in Mensa

The following article first appeared in March 2010 Mensa Magazine

From Tending Toddlers to Committing Murder

Caroline Dunford

October 2009 saw the release of my first crime novel, A Death in the Family: A Euphemia Martins Mystery. Previously I’d been most well known for a book I published documenting the second year in the life of my toddler (now 8). So what causes a mother writing about her challenging child to turn to crime?

It’s a good and a difficult question. It’s right up there with the perennial favourite of readers ‘how do you get your ideas?’ All writers hate that question not because they think it’s a foolish one, but if we’re honest, because we rarely know.

I can say that the traumas, heightened emotions and constant tension required of a murder mystery aren’t that different to being the main carer of a toddler (and last February I made myself another one.) But it’s really more about how I approached both topics that gives me my signature style. If some murder mysteries are best drunk with a glass of whisky by your side to fortify you against the more visceral moments, my murder mystery is best read in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. I hope on occasion my readers will be nibbling their nails nervously, but I also expect them to snort tea down their nose from laughing so hard.

It’s taken me a very long time to discover my writing style. The somewhat quirky take on life that I initially developed as a personal survival device against a constantly bemusing world turns out to be also the best way for me to tell stories. Euphemia is set in 1910 and behind the laughter and the headstrong (often na├»ve) antics of the eighteen year old heroine the books confront the very real differences of class, gender and the incoming storm-clouds of WW1.

The story of how Euphemia came into being is even less straight forward. I heard from a fellow writer that ePrint Publishing, previously an educational materials only publisher, was looking for writers of thrillers and mysteries for their new Read Away imprint. My sense of the market told me this was not an opportunity to be missed. I contacted them at once and asked if I could submit. I was politely told they were seeking prospective work from among their already large stable of authors. I pleaded that one had referred me and was allowed to send a chapter and synopsis, but it would need to be delivered in a matter of weeks.

I went to bed wracking my brains trying to think how I could make a science-fiction thriller appeal to a wide audience and woke up with the idea of the Euphemia Martins Mysteries – which are light historical crime stories with a nod to Agatha Christie and Jane Austen in style. My subconscious clearly has a better insight into the literary market than my waking mind.

Euphemia Martins might have been created literally over night, but she had an extremely long gestation period. She is partly inspired by my great grandmother, who came from a very wealthy family, but on falling out with her new-step mother, ran away from home and into service. And so a family legend was born.

Although I never met her as a child I loved her story. It sounded so romantic. As an adult I realized her life was more likely to have been hard and difficult, but I admired her enormously for her independent spirit in a time when women were of very little account.

My switch to crime becomes even easier to understand when you know that like most Mensans I love puzzles and I love crime novels. I’d never written one because I don’t know (or particularly want to know) a lot about either forensics or police procedure. However, in 1910 forensics were very limited and by making my investigation team a maid and the younger son of rich, but disreputable family, I’ve almost entirely side-stepped the police. My background in psychotherapy helps me create three dimensional characters and also gives me a good grounding in what will drive a person to murder.

I heard Euphemia’s voice from the first sentence of chapter one and I knew I had something special. Fortunately ePrint agreed and before book one was even completed we were talking about the series. My crime writing is now an established part of my life and the family know the tell-tale signs of when I am disappearing back into 1910. Books two and three (‘A Death in the Highlands’ and ‘A Death in the Asylum’) are scheduled for release this year and book one has just been entered into the Orange Prize.

A Death in the Family: A Euphemia Martins Mystery (ePrint Publishing) is available now in paperback (£6.99) from the publisher’s website, and from all good bookstores.

How to Survive the Terrible Twos: Diary of a mother under siege (£7.99) available direct from, and from all good bookstores,

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Toddling On

Between 2003 and 2004 I kept a diary on the progress of my elder son's toddler years. In particular the times that are known for a good reason as The Terrible Twos. This went on to form the basis of the book How to Survive the Terrible Twos: diary of a mother under siege which was published in September 2005.

Of course no child is terrible, but all mothers discover that this particular stage of growing mobility and independence is a time when small people test boundaries to see if anything, including their parents, will break. It is also a delightful time. On the whole toddlers are great companions, endlessly amusingly, mostly deliriously happy (when not in tantrum mode) and full of the joys of life. Mortgages, school, job worries, finances etc play no part in their little worlds. The journey of a toy train around the living room is the funniest, best and most exciting thing ever and will produce endless gales of laughter. When you are able to engage in this positive tiny worldview it is extremely refreshing. The problem has always been that parents worry if they are doing the right thing and there are countless professionals on hand to tell them how to manage their child - very few of whom agree or who set unachievablely high standards.

I wrote The Terrible Twos as a mother not an expert. I wrote of all my mistakes as well as my achievements. It's funny and it's sad, but above all I hope it's hopeful and reassuring.

This morning, despite the book being five years old, I saw that another review had been added to the amazon site by a mother who had come across the book by chance and found it helpful. I know it's a very popular book in libraries and is recommended by a number of councils in their parental help section.

The child in the book is now eight and thriving. His little brother is just coming up for two. I may need to reread my own book.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Real life and fiction

Fiction may be inspired by life, but it's far from playing by the same rules. Life is to fiction as a riding a penny farthing is to driving a lamborghini. It's bigger, brighter, more thrilling and you get there very much sooner.

It is most easy to see this on t.v. How many times have you seen a character sit down for a coffee or a meal only to rise again in moments as if this was perfectly normal? When in reality you know everyone in the place would be looking at them as if they were mad and their lack of nourishment would mean they would expire within a few weeks?

Characters in fiction eat fast, rarely sleep and certainly never sh- go to the toilet. A few shower, because that's apparently a very good place for them to have unique thoughts and it allows a little flesh to be shown/imaged.

And characters never travel from A to B. They depart and they arrive. The journey is only described if something happens along the way.

Coincidence is seen as lazy writing. Critics will mutter about plot threads not being woven tightly enough and the gods defend any new writer who sends material to the slush pile that can be seen as in any way baggy. And yet it's very real. If you think back over the past twenty four hours I bet you'll be able to come up with one minor coincidence and over the past month as least one major one. (Try it!)

Ironically, anti-coincidence - like my recently swapping my 4x4 for one of the most ecologically friendly cars on the planet and investing in my first decent pair of high heels for years just before the snow-storm came - would be fine to be used in a story. It would be seen as humorous and creating more obstacles for my character (which it has.)

This is what fiction is all about - characters vaulting or crashing into obstacles (literally or figuratively). In the west where life moves at an ever increasing pace, so our fiction has got faster and faster. Paragraphs are shorter on the page and scenes fleeting on the telly. I'm told people watch tv, text and surf the net at the same time. (It makes me wonder if the next stage of evolution will involve more hands.) As has been noted for some time our attention span is continually shrinking.

The golden rule in modern writing is stuff has to happen and it has to happen now! It also has to play by the rules of fictional life. These, as you will be gathering, are many, varied and illogical.

And yet all rules can be broken if you can do it in a way that shocks the reader. Shock being one of the most tantalizing enticements to bored readers. Fear and horror are very acceptable too. Although the whisper from the States is the next new vogue in publishing will be Angels as the general reader base is looking for a bit of cheering stuff. (Thank heavens)

If I try to make sense of this all the best I can offer is that when we tell someone of our day's events, we don't put in all the details. We highlight stuff and if we want to keep their attention we do our best to surprise, intrigue and perhaps even shock. We want to seem interesting and we want our fiction in the same flavor.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Work ethics and disappointment

Part of the problem of having a professional blog is that you tend to try and post the worthy stuff only. This can lead to either a very dull blog or a empty blog or in the worst cases both. Mine has certainly been on the sparse side for a while.

However, I have not been inactive otherwise. As well as the all the midwinter festivities many of us are preparing for I have also started the third Euphemia Martins novel. (It will be out in October 2010). It's rolling along nicely with Euphemia, as well intentioned as ever, tumbling into one escapade after another. However, with each novel she is growing just that bit more savvy.

But the real reason I find myself writing up my blog this morning is due to my unexpected freedom. Yesterday I worked extra hard and in between many and varied necessary trips I wrote an entire draft chapter, instead of my usual half. The theory being I'd free myself up for a no writing day and go and spend the morning instead with my writerly pal Z and his daughter. We are in the same writers group and have attempted to meet up several times independently (and with toddlers) for coffee before and always been thwarted. Today the heavens opened, icy blasts rained down and there is as Z put it 'the wrath of god' falling on his side of the city.
So, we're not meeting. Panda, the toddler, is pleased as he is very sleepy. (He took ages to settle last night and due to holding a one bear party in his cot.) I can of course now knuckle down to some more work. Only I don't feel much like it. I worked hard for my treat today and I feel as disappointed as a toddler who's just learned there are no more biscuits in the jar. (Or in Panda's case no more bananas - have I said how much the bear loves bananas?) I am going to get a hot cup of tea and some croissants and watch something really bad that I taped earlier and see what I feel like. Doubtless I will do some more work today, but it will feel better if I convince myself I don't have to.

If it's cold and miserable where you are take a look at my publisher's new website. Not only is there a roaring fire, but there's even a cat on the rug. You can feel warm just looking at it!