Glen Tanar Toads

Last weekend Gareth and I headed out to Aboyne and went for a walk in the Glen Tanar estate. It’s part of the Cairngorms National Park and contains a National Nature Reserve, as well as farmed cattle, luxury cottages, and a ballroom, amongst other things.

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar
A sunny Spring day, with snow on mountain tops far away

There are several footpaths – we followed the Fairy Lochan path, which first took us past the Chapel of St Lesmo.

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

As we carried on we started seeing lots of toads walking beside and on the footpath. Some were on their own, but most seemed to be in pairs or groups – the internet tells me that now is when they come out of hibernation to mate, and on the way to ponds the males tend to hitch a piggyback ride with the females. On the other hand some of the groups could’ve been fighting, or already busy mating!

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

They were everywhere, on their pilgrimage to the Fairy Lochan – we had to keep an eye out not to step on them!

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

Despite the abundance of toads, I’m pretty certain this is frogspawn, going by this information.
2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

We also spotted a slow worm (which is a legless lizard), but it was definitely the day of the toad.

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar

2018-04-08 Glen Tanar


International Women’s Day 2018

Book cover images sourced from Goodreads

Here’s a look at some books by female writers that I’ve enjoyed in the past year.

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan
Touching, funny, a little mysterious; a feel-good read.

Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins
Fans of Girl on the Train seem to love it or hate it. I’d say forget the previous book and just read this for itself – it’s a gripping read which kept me guessing till the end, and it looks at how women are treated by society, from centuries ago to now.

The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
Another intriguing 19th Century semi-fantastical adventure, this time through the jungles of Peru. The beloved Mori, from her previous book, makes an appearance here.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A character who reminds me a little of Anne of Green Gables, but grittier – perhaps if Anne lived in the 21st century she would be too. Deals very honestly with casual racism.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
It’s Agatha Christie – ’nuff said.

The Sewing Machine, by Natalie Fergie
Set in Glasgow and Edinburgh, a great story of multiple generations connected through a Singer sewing machine, with rich historical and local context.

Sleeper’s Castle, by Barbara Erskine
An epic ghost story, set in the Welsh/English borders, and in the present and medieval past. It’s made me want to visit Hay!

Yesterday, by Felicia Yap
A thriller set in an intriguing world where everyone has limited memory. This is the author’s debut novel, and I’m looking forward to more from her.

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
I’ve just finished this; it was sad but so good. About war, family, disappointment, contentment, and potential.

And the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist is out today.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Granite Noir 2018

Aberdeen’s crime writing festival was back for its second year last weekend, with a great lineup of events. I attended some with my workmates on the Sunday.

First up, Ann Cleeves, writer of the Shetland and Vera series, both of which have also become very successful TV shows. The session also featured Dr James Grieve, a Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Aberdeen, and obliging consultant to crime writers. It was really interesting hearing tidbits like how Ann first travelled to Shetland and worked as a cook on Fairisle, which is why her character Jimmy is from there; and how the character Vera wasn’t even originally part of the first book – she appeared when Ann got to a point where someone just had to burst through a door to move things along!

Ann said she doesn’t try to write things like police procedure exactly as they are in real life, as hard work makes for tedious reading, but she feels it’s important not to get things too wrong. Likewise experts like James are happy to contribute their time discussing technical points with writers and film makers to ensure entertainment can also educate, and at the least doesn’t leave people with unrealistic expectations.

I’ve followed the Shetland series on TV but not read any of her books, so I bought the first Vera book – The Crow Trap. When I went to get it signed I said I’d love to visit Shetland sometime, especially for Jamieson’s yarn, to which the esteemed Ann Cleeves herself said “Ah you’re a knitter. You must go to Shetland Wool Week!”

Next it was a session with authors Johana Gustawsson and Clare Carson, whose books travel between time periods and explore how actions and events of the past reach far into the future. Johana’s story, Block 46, moves between a murder in present-day Sweden and London, and the horrors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Clare’s Orkney-based series goes between the 80s and the Cold War, unravelling how a spy’s work impacts upon his family, from the point of view of his daughter.

Both authors have personal connections to their stories; Johanna’s grandfather was a survivor of Buchenwald and Clare’s father was an undercover policeman. Both were really engaging and interesting to listen to, and would’ve chatted for hours with each fan if they’d been able to!

The final event was with Stuart Turton and Felicia Yap. Both are debut novelists whose stories revolve around memory and identity. Felicia’s book Yesterday is set in a world where people have only one or two days of short term memory (everyone relies on ‘i-diaries’ to record the events of each day), so how do you go about dealing with and solving a murder? I had already read this book and enjoyed it, so it was lovely to hear more about it’s origins and about the author (who also happens to be Malaysian).

Stuart’s book, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is a murder mystery very much in the style of Agatha Christie, but where the investigator relives the murder each night through a different guest. Stuart described it as Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie (I love it!). He revealed that he’d wanted to write an Agatha Christie novel since childhood, and this seemed the only way to do something different with the plot that Agatha Christie hadn’t done already!

Both authors were a little nervous – still getting used to their ‘writer’ status and speaking at events – but their warmth, humour, and pleasant natures (as well as some amusing idiosyncrasies) came across well, and it was a fun session.

Very well done to the organisers – it was a great event. It’s such a treat to have these authors in Aberdeen, and I’m very much looking forward to the next Granite Noir.

Happy World Book Day!

SPECTRA Aberdeen

On Friday Gareth and I visited Aberdeen’s SPECTRA light festival. This is the third year it’s been on, but our first time at it.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

First up was the “King Orpheo” installation at His Majesty’s Theatre, as we queued to get into Union Terrace Gardens – I liked how William Wallace seemed to be part of it too. I assumed the scenes being projected onto the building had something to do with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but I didn’t realise until later that the beautiful, haunting music also being played was a traditional Scottish song telling a medieval version of the story, where King Orfeo goes in search of his wife who has been stolen away by the Faerie King.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

We mainly wandered round Union Terrace Gardens.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

The arches in the gardens were perfect little spaces for the installations, and some had their own splendid street art lit up.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

Not sure what this group were doing (those boxes made clicking/pulsing noises like a geiger counter) but they seemed to be having fun.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

My favourite piece: fluorescent yarn art by local schoolchildren.
2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

2018-02-09 Spectra Aberdeen

Being February, photography was a bit of a challenge with frozen fingers, but it was certainly worth the visit to see a brilliant display of light and sound art.

SPECTRA is on until Sunday night, with free entry to all installations.

Happy New Year

I’ve been going through my photos, and realised that there are so many I’ve not posted on flickr or here; often I don’t post some of the newer photos because I feel like I have to stay ‘in order’ and catch up on the older ones first, which means I end up not posting much at all…
Well, 2018 is the year of “no more self imposed rules that are more trouble than they’re worth”. So here are some of my favourite photos of the past year.

Starling in the rain

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