Tag Archives: scotland

Random Acts of Kindness

My godfather takes pilgrimages to Israel. He’s always done it. And I’ve always wanted to go – every since he brought me back some olive soap from the holy land when I was around five. I never used that soap – I decided holy land soap was too holy to wash my hands with. It gained a sort of magical status – along with gemstones collected from panning and my Grandma’s jewelry. We treasure funny things in childhood.


I now like the taste of olives, use olive soap AND I’m finally going to Israel – things have changed a lot and it’s all thanks to a random act of kindness. My Godfather offered me his spouse place on a tour in January – his wife can’t make it so he asked if I’d like to come FOR FREE. I still can’t quite believe this is happening.

Then my parents got jealous and decided to come too. Which is super great because we get on well and there are going to be 100 people of the trip – it’s always good to have someone to take photos when you’re floating in the dead sea reading a newspaper (I’m not sure we will actually do this but good just in case!).

I love the bible so I’m excited about seeing where things happened. I might buy some olive soap too.

The tour company, McCabe tours, ask every guest to raise at least £300 pounds towards their educational trust. It goes to help projects in the area. We’re going to be visiting a boys school near Jerusalem and a blind school in Bethlehem – they’re both funded by the trust.


I was telling friends about the trip and my friend Aimerz said she wanted to help raise the money for the trust. She offered her services as a tour guide. She said we could do a bus trip to raise money for the kids. Amazing!

Then Rabbie’s Tours gave us the bus for free and free petrol. Then the Forth Inn in Aberfoyle offered us a free lunch – Aimerz visits their regularly in her day job as a Rabbie’s Tour guide. She also gets amazing reviews on trip adviser – I can’t wait for the tour!

We’re going on Saturday, there’s still a few places left if you wanted to join us. Tickets start from £30. They include entry to Doune Castle and hot lunch at the Forth.

Get tickets, donate and find out more here. 

A few friends said they couldn’t make it but wanted to help so I’ve set up an option for a donation too – again, I’m so amazed by the kindness of others. I’m about at the target of £300 already but hoping to smash through it by Saturday!

Massive thanks to Aimerz, Rabbie’s, The Forth, everyone who’s coming and everyone who’s donating. And huge thanks to my godfather too! 

UPDATE: We raised £385!

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Posted by on November 23, 2017 in Events, storytelling


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Ready to Launch

Tomorrow I launch my second picture book, The Grouse and the Mouse:


I don’t want to say to much about the story in case you’re coming tomorrow, so for now I’ll just share the text from the back cover:

back cover

Today I’ve felt pretty nervous, I went for a swim earlier to try to swim off my nervous energy. That helped a bit. My friend Katie arrived later today, that helped a lot! This is Katie:


She’s the friend I’ve dedicated the book to. She cried when she first read the book (in a good way). The Grouse (Bagpipe) thinks he knows what’s best for the Mouse (Squeaker) and keeps trying to get him to change the way he’s doing things

“It must be awful to have such a bendy tail, you need a stick to straighten it out”

and so on. But he’s looking at things from a grouse perspective and his advice isn’t right for a mouse. Squeaker, thankfully, is happy with the way he is. He’s confident enough not to let his friend’s strong opinions persuade him to be anything he’s not.

I’ve not always been confident enough to stand up for myself like that, I’ve found myself being shaped by other people’s opinions (especially people that matter to me) but to the point where I’m not being me. Which isn’t good! It’s something I’m working on – I guess I’m trying to be more like Squeaker the wood mouse. And that’s a journey Katie has been on too, she’d been becoming more and more like Squeaker so that’s why I’ve dedicated the book to her.

Earlier today the stickers arrived, they’re to remind everyone to ‘Be yourself’


Stickers via

I’m more or less ready for tomorrow. My presentation includes Laurie Campbell’s beautiful wildlife photos, here’s a sneak preview of one of them:

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) male displaying at lek in late snowfall, Spey Valley, Speyside, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, April 2002

And I’m excited to be using this piece of audio at the launch too – Martin Garnett’s black grouse recording. They sound quite spooky don’t they?:

(click the orange play button)

There will be a chance to get your eyebrows done in grouse red or any other colour you like. And there will be wine and nibbles and black grouse style bum wiggling and an opportunity to hear the story. The illustrator, Kirsteen Harris-Jones is coming too so you can get your book signed by her and me. Hopefully see you there!

If you don’t have your ticket already, get one here.

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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, nature, Science, Writing


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The Wave Project


The Wave Project Scotland started their surf courses for young people this week. I’m a volunteer surf mentor for the project. That means I buddy up with one young person to help them to reduce anxiety and gain confidence through surfing. I’m not a surf instructor – Coast to Coast Surf School provide that expertise. My role is more about high fives, enthusiasm and standing in the water while my buddy learns to surf. It’s about encouragement.

Surf Holiday

I’m going to surf school soon myself. I’m off to Cressy’s Surf Academy in Porthcawl, Wales next month. I’m certain the process of learning will help me to be a better surf mentor and I’m really excited about learning something new.

This is the first proper holiday I’ve had in FOUR YEARS! I know, that is ridiculous. Going on holiday was one of my new years resolutions. I’ve just not had much money or time since I’ve been freelance so it feels extra special to be able to finally afford to make holiday plans in 2015.

Adventure Holidays

I used to go on adventure holidays, before I became a freelancer. I was once snowboarder. An actual snowboarder who did four seasons of snowboarding. This is me and that is snow:


Then I retired. Mainly because I spent most of the last trip in a neck brace, while everyone else had fun on the slopes.

I remember being ordered by a nurse to ‘Undressa!” in the Italian hospital reception. I looked around at all the other people – was that really how things worked in Italy? They nodded in assurance. She said it again much louder and with her hands in the air and I stared to undress. To be fair I had concussion and she was super scary so I wasn’t thinking straight. She just wanted my address for the computer. Thankfully my friends came to the rescue (and put my clothes back on).

I’m hoping surfing will be less dangerous, less embarrassing and more fun.

Loving Water

I’ve always loved water. I’d spend most of my time on family holidays in the sea or in the swimming pool. Our family holidays were in the UK so that got me used to cold water. I still go wild swimming now (I wrote about that here).

Surfing In Hawaii 

I have surfed once before, ten years ago when I went to Hawaii to meet NASA. I had one day off while I was there and I went for a surf lesson:


The instructor taught us the basics on the beach. He also explained how the coral reef was delicate and endangered and so you can’t jump off your board feet first. If you touch the coral it dies and it cuts you.

We went into the water. A wave was coming and he told me to try getting up. And I did. I did it just the way he said and there I was, standing up and riding on a wave. He wasn’t expecting me to do it. I wasn’t expecting me to do it.

At first I thought ‘this is brilliant. I’m surfing’. But then I realised I didn’t know how to steer or stop and I was heading for a whole bunch of surfers waiting for waves. I started to shout “Excuse me!” and “Sorry” and “I can’t steer!” as people paddled and dived out of my path (you go quite fast) and in between my polite but loud warning calls and smiles, I was shouting much less politely to my instructor “HOW DO I STOP!?” and “WHAT DO I DO TO STOP?!” and “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP!” I kept thinking I can’t jump off, the coral will die.

The instructor shouted “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!” That seemed like a really bad idea. So I stayed standing for a little longer and said a few more excuse mes to the children who were now being pushed on their blow up beds out of my path by parents. He shouted again “Jump and land with your legs on either side of the board!”

I was getting closer to the shore and realised I needed to do something. So I jumped. I landed with my legs either side of the board. It hurt a lot. I ricocheted off the board and into the water. I touched coral. I cut all of my legs on the flipping delicate coral. I killed the coral.

And from then onward I didn’t stand up, not properly. I sort of lost my confidence. I didn’t really have a desire to stand up. It seemed like a really, really bad plan. Plus my bum was killing me.

I pretended to try to stand to appease my instructor and I fell off sideways before I got anywhere near the bit with the reef. I just wanted the lesson to be over. My instructor was very keen for me to stand again, I was his best pupil since I’d stood up first time. Here’s a picture of me standing a bit to appease him (the man with the cap).


No one got a picture of me at the beginning. The photographer comes at the end. There is thankfully no dangerous and endangered coral reef in Wales so I’m hoping I might find my inner surfer once again. If I have an inner surfer that is. Perhaps it was just a fluke?

Surfing Teenagers

I didn’t surf as a teenager but I went body boarding just once. I think I found my inner surfer then too. I remember thinking it was the best day of my life. This is me at the end of that day with my best friend Marianne. We were 14:


It was properly fun and at the age when all the things you had fun doing are suddenly for children and you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing anymore.

I loved wearing a wetsuit. I think it’s because I used to be fat. When I was around 13 I suddenly grew really fast and went really thin. I hated swimming at school when I was fat because people made fun of me. And then when I went super thin they called me daddy-long-legs. I had big feet and long legs. As soon as I had a choice I stopped swimming. I hated being in a swimming costume.

But that day, the body boarding day, I was just happy. Happy in a wetsuit. Happy with my best friend. Happy learning something new and having fun and in the water.

And now I’ve started swimming as an adult in the pool with a swimming costume. I got a bad back and swimming was good for me. At first I used to need take a deep breath in the changing rooms and say “You don’t have to be beautiful”. And now I swim most weeks. I’ve overcome my fear.

Surf Mentor

And that’s why I want to be a surf mentor. I remember being 14 and wanting to disappear. And I remember being scared. And I remember that day on the body board and being happy and not caring what other people thought and feeling good about myself. So I hope I might be able to help some young people to have fun and feel that good too. It felt like freedom.


Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Education, Environment, Events


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Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:


The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!


And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell


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Can’t Dance Cameron Book Launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Last week my first picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’ launched in Edinburgh. STV Edinburgh wrote about it here. There were a couple of exciting announcements at the launch:

1) Can’t Dance Cameron is on a reprint. That doesn’t normally happen on the day a new book launches – the book was actually out in shops in Scotland a couple of weeks before the launch because of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Thanks to everyone who’s been buying the book.

2) My new book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ is out next year – I had to keep that secret until now. I signed the contract at the beginning of August and wrote the first version of the book last year. It’s changed a bit since then and it’s now about ready to go to an illustrator. Very exciting.

Back to the launch, here it is in pictures, thanks to photographer Chris Scott. I’m like Can’t Dance Cameron – afraid I’ll look silly dancing BUT Chris somehow managed to get a photo of me in mid-air – he described it as an ascension shot. And I look, well,… almost graceful.

The Launch

The evening started with drinks, nibbles, networking and chat. People took their seats ready for the launch to begin:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Intro from Eleanor

The Chief Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, Eleanor Collins introduced people to me and the book:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Living legend Jonathan Meres did a wee stand-up comedy slot with a giant blue dice:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There were six comedy stories on my interactions with birds through the ages:


We got three stories depending on the dice throw:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Into the Forest

Then it was me. We went on an interactive journey through the forest to try to find a dancing bird. This is the naughty water squirting squirrel, Hazel Nut:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here are the expert volunteers who fanned the smell of the pine forest all around the audience:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

This is an actual giant pine cone – from the USA. We practiced a firework style “ooooh!” and “Ahhhh!” when the pine cone came out – ready for later in the story…

Can't Dance Cameron launch

True or False?

This was a red squirrel true or false quiz – you had to make the shape of a T or an F with your body:

Can't Dance Cameron launch


Then out came the football pine cones – Bethan and Roo volunteered:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here’s Bethan kicking the pine cone past the wild cat to distract it. That’s Adele, she’s works at the Botanic Gardens and she’s pretending to be a scots pine.

Can't Dance Cameron launch


Then we learnt the dance moves, this is the assertion shot I mentioned earlier. Look at my feet!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Science Experiment POP!

Then a quick science experiment to make the capercaillie popping noise using an alka-seltzer rocket!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Music and Dancing

Then we put the dancing together with the music and everyone joined in:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Here’s a sample of the track, click play below:

Even Roy Gill danced, despite his earlier tweet:

The Story

Then I shared the story with the pictures up on the big screen:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

With some actions along the way:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Q and A

After that it was time for the Q and A chaired by Bookriot blogger Edd McCracken:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There were some great questions from the audience including:

  • What inspired the book?
  • What happened to the wildcat?
  • How long did it take to write the book?

Can't Dance Cameron launch


Then there were some thank yous, hosted by poet Elspeth Murray:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

Elspeth thanked:

On my behalf and then I said a few thanks to:

  • My writers group – especially Mairi who let me stay in Ullapool (where I wrote the first version of the book)
  • The Scottish Book Trust (they funded the writing of this book via the Reader in Residence post at Leith Library)
  • Katie Pamment the Illustrator
  • Everyone at Floris Books
  • A big thanks went to my amazing editor Eleanor – I gave her some flowers

Can't Dance Cameron launch

I also thanked everyone for coming and for buying books. Finally Kirsten the publicist from Floris came up to say a final thanks – it was a lovely surprise to be given some flowers too!

Can't Dance Cameron launch


Then a sort of double queue formed, here’s a slightly awkward moment when two people thought they were first in line!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

It was lovely to meet people and sign copies of the book. The illustrator Katie Pamment signed too – it’s not every day you get a first edition signed by the author and the illustrator:

Can't Dance Cameron launch

This is near the end of the queue. By the time we finished all the wine had run out – before I had chance to drink any!

Can't Dance Cameron launch

There are more lovely photos from the event in a Chris Scott album here


Lastly here are some of the tweets from the event. Floris books put some together in a storify too, find it here.


Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Inverness Book Festival

Inverness Book Festival

This Saturday my new picture book ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ is coming home to the Highlands. We’re off to the Inverness Book Festival.


Event Details: Saturday 23rd August 11.30am, Eden Court, Inverness. 

Tickets for children are £4 but include a free adult entry. You are of course welcome without a child too.


There will be:

  • Football with giant foam pinecones (more about that here)
  • Videos of actual dancing capercaillies at RSPB Loch Garten
  • Beautiful Scottish wildlife images thanks to Laurie Campbell
  • A naughty water-squirting red squirrel
  • Science experiments

You can also expect sounds effects, stickers, smells and a few surprises. We’ll be learning capercaillie dance moves along the way and dancing to music composed especially for the event by Sam Gallagher. Here’s a wee sample of the track, click play below:

About the Story

Can’t Dance Cameron is a book about a capercaillie called Cameron who can’t dance. His family, the MacFeathers are the best dancers in the Cairngorms but sadly, when Cameron wiggles everyone giggles.

Cameron meets a new friend, a red squirrel called Hazel Nut who takes him on a journey through the forest…

If you want to know what happens next you’ll have to come along!


We’ll finish the event with a signing. Here’s me getting some practice in at Edinburgh International Book Festival earlier this week:

10399988_10152635604079834_5480202830700385667_n (2)

My Illustrator

I’m really excited to hear my illustrator, Katie Pamment is coming along to the event too. She lives in the highlands and I love how her pictures have captured the feel of the place so well. We’ll be meeting for the first time at Inverness Book Festival.

Other Events

There are loads of brilliant book related events at Eden court from now until Saturday evening, find out more on the Inverness Book Festival website. I’m really looking forward to the event on writing for children and young adults with Keith Charters and Gillian Phillip at 3.30pm – get tickets here.

Read about ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ on the Floris website here. You can buy it at the Inverness Book Festival or from your local bookstore. 



Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Tales From Our Wild Park


This is me holding a giant copy of the book I’ve written for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. It’s called ‘Tales From Our Wild Park’ and it launched yesterday at Glasgow Queen Street station.

The Launch


That’s Paul Wheelhouse the Environment Minister in the middle and Fiona Logan (Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park) on the left and the park convener Linda McKay on the right – getting their photos taken at the launch. They were interviewed by the BBC too, you might have seen it on Reporting Scotland last night?

Behind them to the left is the green screen. It was used to create portraits of people in the park. For example, I stood in front of the green screen and cupped my hands and…. here I am holding a red squirrel in the Trossachs Forest!


You can see all of the photos created by the green screen on facebook here. Read more about the launch on here.

Tales from Our Wild Park

It’s so exciting to see the book in print! It looks absolutely gorgeous. The designers (Create 48) and project manager (Aelred Nicholas) have done an amazing job in putting it together. This is one of my favourite spreads:


John Muir’s quote, the designers beautiful word art, an amazing photo of the bog cotton and my writing.

The publication is 52 pages long. It focuses on five wild challenges:


Half of Scotland’s population live within one hour’s drive from the park so really, the park belongs to all of us and this book is written for you. It sets out the priorities for the park over the next ten years and it invites us to get involved. It invites us to visit the park and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves:

20140812_232350 (2)

The book is free and is available at outlets across the Park. You can download it here.

My Brief

My role was to make the 150 page biodiversity action plan as relevant, engaging, exciting and easy to read as possible. I needed to write for someone with no background knowledge of the park. I read the action plan several times. Some sections, for example ‘our woodland habitats’, were several pages long. My challenge was to condense seven pages into the equivalent of two. Other sections like ‘red squirrels’ or ‘black grouse’ only had a few paragraphs so I needed to take what was relevant and research the topic elsewhere. I thought a lot about how to make things relevant to the public and proposed a general format for each wild challenge of:

  • Relevant quote
  • Descriptive intro
  • Why it’s important / why it matters
  • What we’re doing
  • How can you get involved / what can you do to help
  • Where can you see it / them (location and travel info)

Aelred loved this format and so I set to work on a sample spread. I wanted to check I was on the right track before I wrote the whole thing. I chose peat bogs first. I read the action plan section a few times and researched bogs in books and online. I spoke to a natural history expert, Kenny Taylor to find out more.

I submitted my first spread and received feedback. The good thing was the tone and style were just right but there were things I needed to work on. The team wanted more excitement and adventure. What is it like to climb the mountains and visit a peat bog? I’d suggested visiting Flanders Moss – the most famous bog in the park but this was the wrong type of bog.

This initial feedback was really useful and helped me to understand what the team were looking for. It also helped me to request the information I needed instead of coming up with it myself – like locations for mountain bogs (since there weren’t bog locations in the action plan). I asked for clarification on the angle of each section – for example with invasive non-native species I suggested as an intro we started off all gentle and beautiful and then switch to the destruction of the plants taking over. They liked that.

20140812_230933 (2)

I had to think about the best way to get key points and information across. Not everyone is interested in invasive plants (they’re not cute like red squirrels) so I didn’t want to use lots of text writing about each specific plant. Instead I suggested photos and a table.

20140812_231042 (2)

I wrote the rest of the sections and simplified the vision and overview. The feedback was good – just some minor changes and a suggestion to find some alternative quotes (apart from John Muir). I’d chosen John Muir because I love how he captures the heart of the beauty of experiencing nature with so much simplicity. Also, he’s from Scotland, he founded national parks in the US and it’s the year of Scotland’s homecoming. But taking the feedback on board, I found some other relevant quotes and they’ve really added something – like Billy Connolly’s quote about a sexy raincoat!

Aelred asked partner organisations for quotes too – they really bring the topics to life.

I love that about the creative process. When others contribute ideas and vision it makes the whole thing so much better as a result.


The style is completely different to anything the park has published before. Feedback and so far has been really positive. One staff member told me how she cried when she read it. It’s been described as a publication that engages with the head as well as the heart. 

I’d be interested to hear what you think too!?

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I’m really excited to say ‘Tales of our Wild Park’ is going to all the teachers visiting Edinburgh International Book Festival School Gala Day on the 26th August. I’m doing three events at the book festival this year including an event at the Gala Day. I’ve written another book that came out this week, this one is for children but it also features a red squirrel and a forest! It’s called ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’. Read more about it here.

Find out more about Wild Park on the Wild Park 2020 website.


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