Tag Archive for: Scotland

Scotland, Setting, and Story

by Sparkle Abbey

We are just back from an amazing trip to Scotland and so our heads and hearts are full of all of those experiences.  We were there two weeks and still didn’t get to see everything that we wanted to, but we certainly hit most of the high points.

We started in Edinburgh, traveled north to Loch Ness and Inverness, then farther north to Ullapool, the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Lewis. And finally, we headed back south to Loch Lomond, Glasgow and then back to Edinburgh to fly home.

So many fantastic new experiences, so many breathtaking views, so much history.

One of the things that becomes clear when you travel to landscapes that are unlike those you’re used to, is that where we live is all a part of our story. It’s not just where we live. It’s who we are. And that’s very much true in the stories we write as well.

Understanding the place a story is set and how that place plays a part in the mood, the characters, and sometimes even the conflict, is important. And we can certainly see why writers who have chosen Scotland for their setting have been drawn to that atmospheric element of the Scottish landscape.


Are there particular settings in books that speak to you? Are there places that you especially enjoy reading about?

As you already know, we usually tend to write stories set near lovely sunny beaches. But don’t be surprised if sometime in the future a wee bit of Scotland creeps into a Sparkle Abbey story.

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

They love to hear from readers and can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the SparkleAbbey.com website


Travel: A Path to World Peace

By Barbara Plum aka AB Plum

“Travel is fatal to
prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness …”  (Innocents Abroad)

On the other hand, there’s no
place like home.

After a summer of living in
Denmark, with side trips to Iceland, Scotland, Finland, and Estonia, I boarded
what I hoped was my last airplane for a while on August 31. We stood in line to
clear security at Kastrup, and I wondered if any other country besides our
Scandinavian haven had withstood such an onslaught of tourists.

Despite the hordes—and my
being patted down at the airport—the multitudes and I proceeded to our flights
without incident. Standing in front of Customs, I felt a frisson of tension.
(We learned before departing the US that Iceland is part of the Schengen Area).

So? You might ask.

Schengen Agreement … 

This Agreement allows people
and goods to cross 26 EU borders without visas or other kinds of border controls.
US citizens can remain in the entire area
a total of 90 days within a 180-day period. Pretty straight forward. (My husband traveled on his Danish passport and so avoided the “rules).

Yes, but …

I knew about the restrictions
before leaving the US on May 27 for Iceland. Iceland is part of the Schengen
Agreement. Six days there before going to Denmark meant I would exceed the 90-day allotment. I called
the Danish Consulate near my home in late April and got the reassurance that I could go to
any police station in Denmark and receive an extension of my 90 days.

Once upon a time, yes. In June 2019 …
I had to go to Danish Immigration with a long form filled out by my husband’s
lawyer-cousin. The clerks who handled my request warned us I would very likely have
my request rejected. (About a hundred people—Mid-Eastern women, mostly, with
small kids and babies—queued up to other lines to submit their papers). I never
learned the outcome of their petitions, but I realized my extension mattered
nothing compared to immigrants seeking asylum.

Ever optimistic about my own
case, I thought playing the “family” card would over-ride
bureaucracy. Family is a very big deal in Denmark. My husband’s family had
planned a major reunion for us and dozens of cousins on August 25. Our adult kids
were coming from the US to take part in the festivities. Et cetera. Et cetera. Etc.

Nothing personal … and no narrow-mindedness …
just the rules …

In less than a week, we received
the official word, delivered by Priority Mail. I had to leave on the 24th
or risk a hefty fine and exclusion from the EU for an unspecified time if I
violated the rules.
A trip to the American
Embassy resulted in no hope. Naively, I assumed someone in the US Embassy would
take up my case. Denmark, I learned, now has some of the strictest immigration
policies in Europe. And no, I could expect no help from US personnel.

A loophole …

A light shone at the end of
the tunnel though. One loophole existed. I could leave Denmark for 6 days (the
number by which I would exceed my stay) and then return to Denmark, giving me a
total of 90 days in the country.

But … but … where could I go?

The UK or Croatia. Or, of
course, back to the States. Choices, choices.
Brexit mania was all over the
European news in mid-July. Did I really want to go to London under those

After five minutes of
discussion about cheaper airfares, shorter flights, and another visit to
Croatia, my husband and I chose Scotland for our sojourn. I’d always wanted to
tip-toe through the heather—if I could visit during a rain-free period.


Raindrops keep dancin’ on my head …

Sunshine shone on us every
day except for our bus trip to Stirling to visit the castle. Since we’d enjoyed
perfect weather at Edinburgh Castle, we didn’t complain. Dozens of Scotsmen
told us how lucky we were not to have to resort to rain-gear, and we agreed.

Our six days in Edinburg flew
by. We missed the heatwave that hit the week after we left, and we returned to
Copenhagen almost glad for the need to make the side trip.

And yes, we tried haggis—almost
edible with a couple of cold local beers.

Our trips to Finland and
Estonia, planned before our imposed trip to Scotland, proved uneventful. Great
weather. Manageable crowds. Quiet and relaxing.

Heading home …

By the last week of August, despite
an amazing summer, we were ready to go home on the 31st.  An eleven-hour flight lay ahead of us so we
decided to check for lounge availability and pay for a more quiet place to
relax before takeoff. Pay, because Norwegian Air no longer provided free lounge
entrance for Premium passengers. If we upgraded to Premium-Plus status, then we
could stay for the 2-hour wait time for free. Another thousand dollars seemed
excessive …

As we checked with the desk
attendant regarding available space, she told us the charge would be $40
each.  We hesitated. Then, a young woman
behind us, offered to make us her guests. Surprised, but quite happy, we
accepted. We thanked her and discovered she’d grown up in Silicon Valley. She
now lives in Boston, but the world is a small place.

We settled in with coffee and
comfy chairs and marveled at our good luck. “Travel [really] is fatal to
prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

How about you. Do your travel
experiences support Twain’s statement?
When not traveling the world,
Barbara Plum and her alter ego, AB Plum, live in Silicon Valley. Her latest
romantic comedy, Crazy Daze and a Knight
is available FREE through Thursday. 

Separation Anxiety

For my day job, I’m working on a new book about baby’s first year. It’s been a long time since I had any infants in the house. Heck, even our dog is middle-aged. Many of the basics of newborn care haven’t changed, but the who, what, when, where, why, and how of baby’s sleeping habits has undergone a dramatic change since my kids were little. I’ll be devoting an entire chapter to what parents need to know about sleep – their own and their child’s.

I’ll also be focusing on separation anxiety, typical behavior in eight month old infants – and also in this mom whose “baby” is currently studying in Scotland. The news reports from the semester abroad student have been terrific. A little homesickness, a touch of shyness, but all in all, she’s having a grand time. Even willing to try vegetarian haggis – so the sense of adventure is strong.

But me? I have been surprised at how much I miss her. I’ve decided – and tell me if this makes sense – that my emotions are exaggerated because she’s in a different time zone. I feel like I’m watching a tape delay of the Beijing Olympics. The game is already over by the time I turn on the TV. I’m rooting for a winner when if I only go on the Internet, I can find the scores and know what happened. I’m not in “real time” with my kid.

On the other hand, my husband says I’m talking to her more now that she’s overseas, than when she was 120 miles away. Part of it (okay all of it) is my personal craziness, but Skype has dramatically changed my over-anxious life. If you’re not familiar with this free software, and have family and friends who live at a distance, you need to check this out. With Skype you can talk, and if you have a camera/microphone attached to your computer, you can actually see the person on the other end — all without charge! On the first day in Scotland, by moving the camera on her laptop computer around the room, I could actually see where my daughter is living. When we talk, she can show me what she is wearing to the “freshers” dance. Of course, I could also see the circles under her eyes from lots of late-night events.

Letting go – whether your children are four, fourteen, or forty – is never easy. But thanks to a daughter who is patient with her over-anxious mother and with the help of cell phones, e-mail, and Skype, I can watch as she takes wing and soars.

Only 95 more days to go (before she’s home!).

Evelyn David

How Shall I Kill Thee?
Let Me Count the Ways

If you’re tired of death by bullets (and I still like a good Glock 9mm to do the trick), there are lots of other options. You might consider the more high-tech thallium or stick to the old-fashioned, but still effective, stiletto.

Murder can be accomplished in lots of ways. Personally, I’m intrigued by spontaneous human combustion. Years ago I read a great Scottish mystery where the victim dies ostensibly under those circumstances. Of course the killer has manipulated the situation so that it appears that the body burned of its own accord. I wish I could remember the author or title. Help please??

Since Evelyn David knocked off her first victim, we’ve gotten quite adept at new and interesting ways to commit murder. Should it trouble me that my favorite bedtime reading is Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers (D.P. Lyle, M.D., St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2003)? On the other hand, I’m a firm believer in the 50-page rule. Somebody’s got to be dead in the first 50 pages or generally speaking, I’ve moved on. Heck, in Murder Off the Books and the forthcoming sequel, Murder Takes the Cake, somebody dies in the first paragraph. Now that’s how to get the show on the road!

I enjoy, probably more than I should, discovering new ways to commit murder. But here’s a word to the wise. Remember that your Internet research is fair game for the prosecution should you decide to use your murder skills in real life (elimination of the spouse who leaves dirty clothes on the floor or the neighbor with the windchimes on the porch). I came across a news story recently about a woman who was on trial for murdering her husband. Chief among the evidence arrayed against her were her Google searches for “instant poisons”, “undetectable poisons”, and “fatal digoxin doses.” And then apparently the coup de grace was her search for “how to commit murder.”

Sometimes you don’t really want to kill – just maim slightly. A wound that permits your injured hero or heroine to still be healthy enough to foil the bad guys. I spent hours trying to find a gunshot wound that wouldn’t require major surgery so that one of our characters could be released from the hospital within six hours. Of course, when I was writing that scene, I had other worries. Even with the correct wound, who could guess how long the hero would sit in the Emergency Room waiting to see a doctor?

But then I remembered – this is fiction. I can move our hero to the front of the line, have him see a brilliant doctor with a wonderful bedside manner without filling out 30 pages of financial information, and get his bullet wound repaired with a liberal application of Crazy Glue.

Okay, I know. Fiction does have limits and your plot has to be believable. Some of what I just wrote will have to be deleted; probably everything except the bit about the Crazy Glue.

Evelyn David