There will be a lot of photographs in this post because in April, I went to Scotland.
I mean, I also had a dream that Charley was dead and completely freaked out when she didn’t come online, finished Forget My Wings – mostly in a car, emailing chapters to Charley every time we reached a service station and got WiFi (and she hated me for the ending) – started writing the second draft of The Quiet Ones, and wrote 25 poems, two of which were inspired by Game of Thrones (don’t even ask). My total wordcount was down to 71k, and on my spreadsheet I gave myself the following instructions:
Stop destroying the emotions of your readers. And yourself. Write something happy for once. Oh wait, I forgot, you’re incapable of that.
But the main thing that happened was that I went to Scotland to visit the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews; we called in at York on our way home, too. It’s ironic, because the one uni we didn’t visit while we were up there (Edinburgh) is the only one in Scotland I ended up applying to… huh.
It’s a long way to Scotland, so I made good use of the car journey to work on my novel in the back seat. My laptop proved remarkable in its battery life, and every time we reached a service station I sent Charley what I’d written. Emotional destruction waits for no man.
It had snowed recently, so the journey was pretty interesting visually, as well.
Because the places we wanted to go were so far North that driving there in one day wasn’t feasible, we stopped off at a hotel overnight and then continued our journey in the morning. While researching B&Bs, we came across this hotel that was very reasonably priced and also looked like a castle.
I began collecting evidence for my theory that Scotland is actually fictional, and this was the first one. It looked like Cair Paravel, therefore we were in Narnia. No arguments. Of course, this was disproved by later scenery that suggested Middle Earth, but perhaps the two have more connection than just friendship between the authors?
From a distance, it could be regarded as from the later Narnia, the one they visit during Prince Caspian, because the trees and general undergrowth surrounding it look so wild.
So, we went on to St Andrews. It was hard to form much of an impression because it was pouring with rain the whole time we were there, but the place certainly seemed pretty medieval (and the course I was looking at there was medieval history, so that was appropriate). It’s got quite a strong royalist connection, and there was even a coffee shop that advertised itself as the place Will and Kate used to meet up … excuse me while I vomit! That didn’t exactly appeal to me, being someone who doesn’t approve of unelected monarchy but would put up with it if it wasn’t for the media obsession etc. No thank you.
We also ran into quite a lot of students wearing their red university gowns, which looked like blankets. After a while of wondering why, we plucked up the courage to ask them, but I can’t now remember what the event was that was happening to require such oddity.
Eventually I ruled out the university because I thought it’d be too posh for me and I’d just end up starting a revolution or something, but there we go. It was nice to visit anyway.
So from there we went on to Aberdeen, which to our immense surprise was sunny. I mean, it advertises itself as the sunniest city in Scotland, but that’s not saying much, and it’s super far North. We were there for a couple of days, rather than the few hours we spent in St Andrews, and this was great news for me: as well as researching the university, I was also collecting information I could use to rewrite The Quiet Ones, which is primarily set in Aberdeen.
We discovered a very important thing about Scottish architecture: they love turrets. Which is awesome, because I do too, but seriously. Turrets, everywhere. This is the Salvation Army building in the main square of the city:
It’s like being permanently in Hogwarts. Turrets are everywhere.
Aberdeen’s a very grey city, built almost entirely out of granite, but it’s nice. It’s also near the beach, which one forgets when thinking about Scotland, and while we were up on the hill that looked out to sea, we found a bunch of signs from an initiative called “by order of me”. Written by schoolchildren, they varied hugely in their content, but this was probably my favourite.
As you can see from that picture, it wasn’t sunny all the time. In fact, it abruptly started snowing at that point, and we sought refuge in a lovely cafe called Kilau cafe, which became the setting for the first scene of The Quiet Ones, because I liked it so much.
Aberdeen’s again got quite a lot of old buildings, at least in “Old Aberdeen”, although some areas are a lot newer. This time it was a proper, organised university visit, so I had a chance to discuss the course with the people in charge. I almost applied there, but I’m very keen to carry on with dance throughout uni and they didn’t have a ballet society that met my needs. Also, I’ve so many health issues these days that going to university 550 miles away from home seemed unwise.
(But it was a lovely place and the uni had a lot to offer, and I’m glad my characters got to go there even if it didn’t work out for me.)
This is a cute picture of my parents in the snow walking through Old Aberdeen as we looked for somewhere to get a cup of tea and some warmth. My camera didn’t like getting snow on the lens and I swear it’s never been the same since, but I liked the pictures I took during the brief snowfall, so it was worth it.
After we left Aberdeen, we went to Glasgow, where my main memory is of being distracted by another prospective student who was incredibly attractive and happened to be sitting in front of me the whole way through the talk we went to. I felt somewhat like Marius Pontmercy and tried not to stare, but my texts to Charley from that period suggest I wasn’t succeeding all that well.
However, the other thing that happened during that time was that while in a supermarket in Glasgow, I checked my emails on my phone and discovered that the agent who represented one of my all-time favourite authors had requested to read my whole novel after I queried them. Needless to say, I freaked out.
Spoiler alert: they rejected me later. But a full request was so exciting that I literally jumped up and down and wouldn’t stop going on about it the whole time we were walking back to our accommodation.
Glasgow was incredibly sunny the whole time we were there, totally contradicting all the warnings we’d been given about how terrible the weather was. It also had its fair share of turrets, and the shopping area was a crazy mixture of old architecture and modern shops.
Eventually, I concluded that the course at Glasgow wasn’t what I was looking for, and therefore didn’t apply there. But it was, again, a nice city. And the other prospective students weren’t bad, either. ;)
As I said, we took a scenic route home that not only included a beach – I can’t now remember what it was called – but also the University of York, where the History department turned out to not have a floor. It was an exhausting ‘holiday’, because walking around universities takes a lot of energy, but I managed to get plenty of research done for The Quiet Ones, as well as finish Forget My Wings.
Other than that, the month was dominated by Les Mis related fandom activity (jokes, heartbreak, references, and fan fiction), procrastinating on revision, and recording a track for a musical I was co-writing. On my blog I wrote 7 posts, many of them linking to the fact that I was editing, but also reflecting on my own life experience, and my fondness for poetry.
Most controversially, I made a video defending Twilight. I know you’re shocked. Don’t be.
I only read two books, according to Goodreads – White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which I remember finding incredibly difficult, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. My review for the latter goes some way to explaining the lack of reading that happened:
After spending weeks barely getting through the books I had from the library because I just couldn’t settle into anything, a friend bought this as a four-month-late birthday present and I finished it in about a day, completely engrossed in the story.
So, quite a lot happened in April, what with the whole Scotland thing, and it was only looking back that I realised I’d never actually told you guys much about that. I hope it was interesting to you!
May was exams and not as much fun, but nevertheless I’ll talk about it tomorrow. In the meantime, got any stories from April to share?
EDITED TO ADD: I’m really sad that I couldn’t include all my favourite photos from my epic road trip, so I’ve made an album on my Facebook page that you can see! :)