Edinburgh

Edinburgh Writing Retreat

I'm home after five weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I was on a writing retreat to work on a new novel. It was an intense five weeks. To get the most out of the trip, I was strict about getting my daily writing done first thing each day, writing for 5 hours each morning, before letting myself explore the city and do research after lunch in this amazing city I've been visiting since I was 10 years old. Here are a few of the many highlights of the trip.

The inspiring view from my writing nook: Edinburgh Castle, which sits high atop a volcanic rock in the center of the city.

The inspiring view from my writing nook: Edinburgh Castle, which sits high atop a volcanic rock in the center of the city.

The dramatic sky over Edinburgh Castle.

The dramatic sky over Edinburgh Castle.

I was on my own in Edinburgh for part of my writing retreat and had various family members with me there for parts of the time—with the understanding that everyone knew my morning writing hours were sacred. The plan worked, no doubt helped along by these views. I handed a draft of the new novel to my agent and she loved it!

Dori the gargoyle didn’t hide out in my bag on this trip, but Hamish the Highland Cow (COO) followed me home one day, and was a great writing helper.

Dori the gargoyle didn’t hide out in my bag on this trip, but Hamish the Highland Cow (COO) followed me home one day, and was a great writing helper.

Visiting the Bedlam Theatre, where I performed during college many years ago.

Visiting the Bedlam Theatre, where I performed during college many years ago.

The passageway leading to the Writers Museum, which celebrates Scottish authors Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I attended terrific magic show here as well, with magicians Lewis Barlow, Jody Greig, and Adam Black.

The passageway leading to the Writers Museum, which celebrates Scottish authors Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I attended terrific magic show here as well, with magicians Lewis Barlow, Jody Greig, and Adam Black.

Why was there a magic show at the Writers’ Museum? Because August is Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival! It’s the world’s largest arts festival, opening the city to anyone who wants to perform. I first attended as a kid, but hadn’t been back in years. I was glad that this writing retreat overlapped with the start of the festival.

Why was there a magic show at the Writers’ Museum? Because August is Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival! It’s the world’s largest arts festival, opening the city to anyone who wants to perform. I first attended as a kid, but hadn’t been back in years. I was glad that this writing retreat overlapped with the start of the festival.

One of many events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. I attended several performances and workshops here, doing research for the novel.

One of many events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. I attended several performances and workshops here, doing research for the novel.

On the outskirts of the city, the ruins of Craigmillar Castle.

On the outskirts of the city, the ruins of Craigmillar Castle.

Exploring the castle.

Exploring the castle.

A secret courtyard filled with ruins that have been rescued from various parts of the city when old buildings are demolished! This hidden gem is behind the Museum of Edinburgh, and a fictionalized version made its way into my manuscript.

A secret courtyard filled with ruins that have been rescued from various parts of the city when old buildings are demolished! This hidden gem is behind the Museum of Edinburgh, and a fictionalized version made its way into my manuscript.

A few of the rescued stone carvings.

A few of the rescued stone carvings.

A view from the flat: Fireworks above the castle.

A view from the flat: Fireworks above the castle.

I've got a lot more work to do on this book, so now I need to find time to revise in between other writing projects I’m excited about, from Jaya to Zoe to a couple of short stories…

Jaya Jones and The Hindi Houdini in Edinburgh

Last week I shared a recap and photos from my writing retreat in Edinburgh, where one of the highlights was revisiting the Edinburgh setting of "Fool's Gold," my novella prequel to Artifact. 

Jaya and Sanjay solve a mystery at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that involves Scotland's famous Lewis Chessmen.

The novella was published in 2012 in Other People's Baggage, and this May was the first time I'd been back to Scotland since the mystery came out! So of course I had to stop by both the Edinburgh Fringe Festival office and the National Museum of Scotland where several of the chessmen are on display.

My Lewis Chessmen replicas, next to my book in which they appear.

Why are the Lewis Chessmen so intriguing? In addition to their origins remaining a mystery, the 12th century pieces themselves have so much personality, as can be seen in my photos below.

The Berserker biting is shield is one of my favorites!

When I was a kid spending the summer in Scotland with my mom while she did academic research, I got to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world's largest arts festival (also purportedly the world's largest street festival) that takes place each August.

Several years after I attended the festival, I performed in a theatrical production in Edinburgh during my junior year abroad. Since I doubted I'd ever again perform in Edinburgh, when I became a writer it occurred to me that I could send my characters there!

So I combined the Lewis Chessmen with the Ed Fringe Festival in the locked-room mystery novella 

"

Fool's Gold

.

"

All historian Jaya Jones wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

The novella is connected to Diane Vallere's "Midnight Ice" and Kendel Lynn's "Switch Back." Four years ago, Diane, Kendel, and I had the idea of collaborating on a project. The result was 

Other People's Baggage,

 a collection of interconnected mystery novellas featuring our mystery series characters. The premise: 

These are the stories of what happened after three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

We're still friends after collaborating, so either we did something right, or nothing can tear us apart! And this year, the third books in each of our series came out.

OTHER PEOPLE’S BAGGAGE: 

“Midnight Ice” by Diane Vallere (A Mad for Mod Mystery Novella, the prequel to PILLOW STALK). The third Mad for Mod Mystery starring Madison Night, WITH VICS YOU GET EGGROLL, came out April 14, 2015.

“Switch Back” by Kendel Lynn (An Elliott Lisbon Mystery Novella, the prequel to BOARD STIFF). The third Elliott Lisbon mystery, SWAN DIVE, came out March 17, 2015.

“Fool’s Gold” by Gigi Pandian (A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Novella, the prequel to ARTIFACT). The third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, QUICKSAND, came out March 10, 2015.

Kendel Lynn, Diane Vallere, and Gigi Pandian in 2012 at Mystery Ink.

This weekend

I get to see my 

Other People's Baggage

 collaborators Diane and Kendel at the 

California Crime Writers Conference

 June 6-7, 2015!

Edinburgh Writing Retreat to Celebrate my 40th Birthday

I'm home from Scotland, where I celebrated my 40th birthday with the writing retreat I envisioned nearly four years ago while going through chemo. (The story behind this trip can be found here.)

I've been pretty good at hanging onto my post-cancer seize-the-day mentality, so I rented an apartment in Edinburgh and invited my local writer's group to join me for a writing retreat vacation. Nearly half of them were able to make it! Rachael Herron, Lisa Hughey, Mysti Berry, and Emberly Nesbitt hopped on a flight to Edinburgh.


The Writing Retreat


I was so happy to discover that we were compatible travelers! We were all on the same page about writing all morning to meet daily writing goals before heading out for adventures exploring the city. I spent most of my writing time plotting a new mystery novel set in Edinburgh.

Mysti Berry, Gigi Pandian, Emberly Nesbitt,
Lisa Hughey, Rachael Herron

My favorite writing spot in the cozy kitchen of the Edinburgh apartment.

Writing at the Elephant House Cafe, where I used to study during my junior year abroad in Edinburgh, and where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book





Visiting the Bedlam Theatre, where I performed on stage 20 years ago as a student


  


Exploring the City







A birthday meal at the Witchery by the Castle






Mysterious Edinburgh


Edinburgh was the perfect city for inspiration for the new mystery I'm writing with ghostly, Gothic overtones! These were a few of my favorite mysterious encounters. 

With how much I love puzzle plot mysteries filled with enigmatic clues, it's hard to believe I hadn't previously experienced a live action puzzle escape game. Dr. Knox's Enigma was the perfect introduction to one! 

https://www.dr-knox.com/





Mary King's Close is one of the tours that takes people underground to explore the centuries-old streets beneath Edinburgh's Old Town neighborhood. The modern day central city is built on top of the dark, narrow streets that once housed the city's poor. (A "close" is a narrow alley.)

Like with Dr. Knox's Enigma, in these underground tours the true mysterious history of Edinburgh is sprinkled with fanciful drama. Fact and fiction merge in ghost stories and with figures wearing the real-life beaked masks plague doctors used to wear to combat disease.





A "kirkyard" is a churchyard / graveyard. Greyfriars Kirkyard is famous for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the terrier who is said to have spent more than a decade guarding his owner's grave, up until his own death. The faithful dog was then buried not far from his owner.



Getting out of town












Revisiting the Edinburgh Setting of "Fool's Gold," the novella prequel to Artifact


In 2012, I collaborated with mystery authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn to write Other People's Baggage, a collection of interconnected mystery novellas featuring our mystery series characters (Jaya Jones for me, Madison Night/Mad for Mod for Diane, and Elliott Lisbon for Kendel). 
Baggage claim can be terminal. This is what happened after a computer glitch mislabeled identical vintage suitcases and three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

The story I contributed to the collection was "Fool's Gold," which takes place in Edinburgh. It's set during the annual Ed Fringe Festival, the huge arts festival that takes place every August.


Fool's Gold

All historian Jaya Jones wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.




Lest this highlights post get taken over by the fascinating histories of the Lewis Chessmen and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I'll do a more detailed post on my "Fool's Gold" inspirations next week!


I'll end with one of my favorite images from the trip


Now I need to come up with an excuse to do this again! 




A Dream During Cancer Treatments Becomes a Reality: A Writing Retreat in Scotland

One week from today, I'll be stepping off an airplane in Edinburgh, Scotland. Along with me will be several members of my local writers group who are joining me for a week-long writing retreat. And even cooler than that? The week culminates with my 40th birthday! (Update: You can see photos from the trip here.)

My first trip to Scotland, 30 years ago.
I hatched this plan nearly 4 years ago, while I was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, a time when I had no idea if I'd be alive and well at 40. The writing retreat was a fantasy that gave me something to look forward to. (So was throwing myself into my writing and going on a round-the-world trip — one down and one to go!)

Since completing my cancer treatments I've been healthier than ever, so I decided to make this writing retreat trip a reality. It's far too easy to slip back into the day-to-day responsibilities and ruts of normal life, but ever since that unexpected experience, I'm committed to seizing the day.

Why Scotland? I liked idea of taking my local writers group with me on this celebratory trip to a place that's been special to me since I was a kid. I first visited Scotland when I was 10 years old, tagging along with my professor mom who was spending the summer doing research in the Highlands of Scotland.

Scotland captured my imagination on that first trip — Loch Ness and its famous monster, castle ruins perfect for exploring, ghost stories told by people with cool accents — so I returned many times. My longest stay was when I lived in Edinburgh while attending the University of Edinburgh for my Junior year abroad during college, I set a big chunk of my first novel, Artifact, in the Highlands of Scotland, and my novella "Fool's Gold" (in the Other People's Baggage anthology) is set in Edinburgh.

Dunnottar Castle, Scotland, along the coast where Artifact is set.

When I thought about where I'd want to go on a writing retreat, I liked the idea of Edinburgh because it's a mix of foreign and familiar, modern and mysterious. That way, I could get my creative energy flowing in a great setting, not be too distracted by feeling like I needed to go out exploring ever minute of the day, and share the experience with several of my dear friends. The plan is to spend our mornings writing in local cafes, then head out exploring the city and surrounding areas.

Having fun in Edinburgh in the '80s.

I wanted to do this trip with my writers group because 1) they're awesome, 2) writing is so much more fun when done with kindred spirits, and 3) they took my wig shopping before I started chemo and bought me my amazing mystery-writerly wig!

Pre-chemo wig shopping party with the Pens Fatales in 2011.


I'm so glad it worked for four of my writer pals to come with me. I'll be posting photos and stories of our adventures from Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps even Instagram (we'll see...).

See you online from the other side of the world. But only while I'm not immersed in my next novel, which might just turn out to be set in Scotland.