The Wee Book Hoose


The telephone box transformed into a 24-hour library. Photo credit: Allan Wright

If you’ve ever wondered what can be done with an unloved and unused phone box just look at what the community in a small village near me have done with theirs.

Crossmichael Community Council bought the village’s BT telephone box for the princely sum of £1 and turned it into a 24-hour library, now known as the Wee Book Hoose. For non-Scots speakers that translates into The Small Book House.

It’s been a very successful community project in which adults in the village and school pupils have all been involved. I was delighted to be invited to attend the opening ceremony and watch Crossmichael resident, Jean Galloway cut the ribbon and declare what may be the smallest public library in the country open for business.


Crossmichael resident Jean Galloway cuts the ribbon to open The Wee Book Hoose. Photo credit Allan Wright.

She was then supposed to enter the library but the heavy door proved problematic – I’d forgotten how heavy old phone box doors are – until John Nelson, chair of the Crossmichael Community Council came to the rescue. Jean then entered the library to choose a book and I was particularly impressed by how she homed in on not only one but two of my books!

Both I and another author and publisher, Jayne Baldwin, had been invited to say a few words about reading and we were highly amused when John Nelson in his opening speech mentioned several times how delighted everyone was to welcome two famous authors to the event.

He stopped us from becoming too swollen-headed by telling the assembled company about how his granddaughter quizzed him beforehand on the identity of famous author. She asked: “Is it J K Rowling?”


“Roald Dahl? Oh, no, he’s dead, can’t be him. Julia Donaldson?”


At least Jayne writes for children and has more chance of being recognised as a real writer amongst primary pupils than I have. It is as well to keep one’s feet planted in the earth.

The project received lots of support both locally and from further afield from authors who have donated books and sent letters of support. Local bookshops gifted books as well as shops in Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town. Tesco provided prizes for the winners of a children’s competition.


Great choice of books, Jean! Photo courtesy of Allan Wright

Four competitions were run in the village prior to the opening of the Wee Book Hoose. Young primary children drew pictures of the Wee Book Hoose while older children were asked to think about 101 uses for a phone box and submit a poem, story or art work. Members of the youth club were invited to enter the competition by imagining they have only one phone call to make:  who would they call and what would they say?

Adults were given the opportunity to reminisce about the first phone call they made or received. Community councillor Alexandra Monlaur, one of the main project organisers, judged the adult competition and said some of the entries brought a tear to her eye. She is planning to collect them into a wee booklet.

pb6I’d asked several local authors to donate a book to the library and was delighted by the response. In my brief talk, I told of how reading had taken me from adventures with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to visiting countries I’ll never see, from solving crimes along with fictional detectives (or never quite solving them before the end) to enjoying the tears and smiles of countless ‘happy ever afters’. I ended by saying (particularly directed at the pupils – who were probably still wondering who I was) that any writer will say they were avid readers before they ever wrote a word.pb3

Home baking is elevated to an art form – and I intend to pile my plate as soon as the photographer disappears. Photo courtesy of Allan Wright

The church bakers had been busy and an array of wonderful home baking awaited the guests in the village hall. All the competition entries were displayed around the walls and Jayne and I handed over the prizes to the winners.

It’s a fantastic project, which has really captured everyone’s imagination. Next time you walk by a little-used telephone box think about what a wonderful library it would make.

And a wee plug for the photographer Allan Wright who has recently published a superb book of landscape photos in homage to Dumfries & Galloway.


As writers we know we must avoid clichés ‘like the plague’ and make sure we come up with exciting new ways to describe the heroine’s ‘peaches and cream’ complexion and the hero’s ‘rugged good looks’.

It was ‘the longest journey starts with a single step’ which set me off. It was how someone had begun his memoir. He had asked me to read and critique it. What he really meant was for me to read his work and tell him it was wonderful but by the time I’d underlined a dozen clichéd expressions in the first few pages I couldn’t oblige. He had had some amazing and exciting life experiences, which would make for a terrific memoir but he’d somehow reduced most of it to clichés and stereotyped descriptions. Every time he referred to his mother, he called her ‘me dear ol’ mum’. Every single time.

When we discussed his manuscript a couple of things became clear. One, he didn’t understand the concept of a cliché and two, even after I had explained, he was still not going to change that opening line for anyone – it said exactly what he wanted to say. That’s the thing about clichés, isn’t it? What once was an original, clever, telling expression becomes a kind of shorthand, the meaning of which everyone understands having heard it or read it countless times.

A dictionary definition: A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

Salvador Dali said: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”  A clever statement – but not original. Dali swiped it (tweaking it slightly) from a French poet, Gérard de Nerval who said it first.

The expression, in its original form, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, is attributed to Lau Tzu, Chinese philosopher and father of Taoism. It would have been considered a clever analogy then, now in the context of my would-be memoirist’s beginning it seems lame and unoriginal. I wonder what Lau Tzu would think if he knew how his comment is used – overused – today.

I wonder if any of us will ‘coin a phrase’ so fresh and clever and original it will be used by other writers for years to come.

I discovered (Wikipedia and other online dictionaries) the word cliché comes from the French word for a printing plate cast from movable type – which is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal. Cliché came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

And have a look at this wonderful site which lists hundreds of clichés and over-used expressions. I love the comment regarding clichés in the intro to the collection: ‘They make for great book titles, but lousy writing’.


Image courtesy of Pixaby

Which ones ‘set your teeth on edge’?


Mary Smith – an update on a new book

My latest book, Castle Douglas Through Time, came out yesterday and I’m very grateful to Susan Toy of ReadingRecommendations for this lovely post.

Reading Recommendations

Mary Smith was previously featured on Reading Recommendations in March 2016. She’s back now to tell us of a non-fiction book, on which she collaborated with photographer Allan Devlin, that’s just been published.

Castle Douglas Through Time
by Mary Smith and Allan Devlin
Published by Amberley Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, local history, photography

The market town of Castle Douglas, beside Carlingwark Loch in the southern Scottish region of Dumfries and Galloway, is relatively new, though the area has been inhabited from prehistoric times and the Romans had a military base close by. In the fourteenth century, Archibald the Grim, the 3rd Earl of Douglas, built Threave Castle nearby.

The town came into being thanks to fertiliser found in the loch and wealth merchant William Douglas, who laid out the present town in 1792. Though his dream of creating a cotton industry failed, Castle Douglas became a flourishing market town. The…

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My name is Mary and I am a procrastinator.

Procrastinate: vi to defer action; to put off what should be done immediately. n procrastination.

The way it goes is as follows. I sit at my desk to write. I check my emails, reply to anything urgent. I take a quick look at some of the blogs I follow. I leave a comment, like and share. It seems rude not to like and share and it only adds a few seconds to the time already spent reading and commenting. After another quick check of my emails I resolutely close down the programme.

I open the WIP file, realise I’ve finished my coffee and nip downstairs to make a fresh one. I notice the kitchen floor needs sweeping so do that while waiting for the kettle to boil – then realise it really needs to be properly mopped. And the load of washing is finished, which I should hang out.

Back at my desk I switch on Outlook just to check no urgent emails have come in, clear out the spam – seems to be an awful lot of invitations to subscribe to funeral plans which make wonder if someone knows something I don’t, in which case I should make the most of the time left to me. Resolutely close down email programme and, oh, look, it’s almost lunchtime and so it goes – and that’s without admitting to the time spent playing spider solitaire.

I’m glad to know I’m not alone in needing help with my procrastination problem. Recently my writers’ group had a session on this very topic – and almost everyone confessed. Various helpful strategies were described and advocated by those who had tried them and found they worked. They included the Pomodoro Technique, scheduling a fixed length of time each day or even a 500-word-a-day spreadsheet.

I decided on the spreadsheet with a target of 500 words a day. It was duly sent to me – a truly magnificent piece of work which added up each day’s words and showed how far ahead or target I was, or how far behind. I started off really well but began to feel a bit uneasy. I’m a freelance journalist – but did the commissioned 800-word article count? No, the group decided – that was cheating.  What about the words written for my blog? That was okay but definitely not words written for work.

Some days, I write a lot for work, usually after interviewing someone or carrying out research and struggle to fit in time to write another 500 words. Or, I might be working on a poem – definitely not 500 words. I was beginning to feel like a failure.

dscf0857Someone suggested setting a timer for 15 minutes. This idea is based on an ebook called The 15 Minute Writer, based on the premise that everyone can manage to find 15 minutes in which to write – it’s only a couple of games of spider solitaire, after all.

It has been wonderful. If, as usually happens, by the time the timer goes off, I’m immersed in what I’m doing, I can carry on. If it’s a struggle, at least I’ve done the 15 minutes – and earned a break.

The other thing which helps is that we all report back on our success or failure each time the group meets – that’s a huge incentive to get writing.

How about others? Do you sit at your work space and write without any procrastination? Or, do you find washing the kitchen floor suddenly holds great appeal, or walking the dog even though it’s raining? Did you find a way to overcome the problem?

Take Five Authors: A round up of this year’s news

I can’t believe the first month of 2017 has almost gone. It’s scary, isn’t it?

So far, this month I have corrected the proofs for for Castle Douglas Through Timecastledouglasthroughtime, which comes out on March 15. It is already available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s a photo-led local history book in a ‘then and now’ format in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin. This is the second book, published by Amberley Publishing we have worked on together. Dumfries Through Time came out in 2015.

They are fun to do, although collecting the 90 old images we need is more than a bit daunting.  Allan then has to take photos of the same places as they are today and I do the research and write the introduction and captions. The research part I love; writing captions which have an upper word limit of 80 words, not so much. Our town has a rich history and it is really difficult to convey that in so few words. Of course, we cheat a bit and have several photos of Carlingwark Loch, for example, so I can tell a bit more of the story through a series of images.

66-bThe week before the launch party for Castle Douglas Through Time I am teaching, with historical novelist Margaret Elphinstone on a creative writing course here in south west Scotland. Juliet, who owns Durhamhill and the llamas and organises the courses emailed today to say places are filling up. There’s another returnee (always flattering but means Margaret and I have to come up with new exercises each time!).

She also wrote: ‘The llama shed is getting a new surface outside. Alan woke me up in a panic at the crack of dawn to say a lorry driver delivering stones had let the llamas out through the gate. I staggered from bed to the drive with a migraine and fell flat over the load of stones – then had to finish sorting out myjane-oz last year’s accounting stuff for the last minute dash to my long-suffering accountant but a hired hot tub for the hen party who were arriving this evening wasn’t heating up properly and Lettie [she’s a llama] was shivering because she had to be shut out in the wind while the builders sorted the stones around the llama palace. Fortunately she loves hot water and drank half a bucket and stopped shivering.’

Are you, as I am, wondering if it was the hen party’s hot tub water the llama drank? And don’t you just know a creative writing course with this woman present is going to be an absolute hoot?

I am about to send a very slim collection of short stories to an editor and hope to publish The Thing in Your Eye and other stories (working title) in mid to late spring. I don’t write many short stories but enjoy the form. Some of these have won or been placed in various competitions and, as it’s a long time since I published any fiction, I thought it was time to get them out there. I’ll have more news of this to share in a future blog.

As for my New Year resolutions – well, I’ve been good at turning down projects (other than a couple of magazine feature commissions) which would take me away from this year’s main project of turning my blog My Dad’s a Goldfish, into a book. So far, I have cut the opening, which worked fine as a blog post but not as a memoir and I’m looking forward to really getting stuck into this next week.

Depending on when you read this post I’ll be on a train to Glasgow or delivering a talk, to an audience of about 70 sex educators (Sexpression), on sex in Afghanistan, or I might be on a train back home. Leave your comments and I will respond as soon as I’m back at my desk. I don’t have a smart phone, thank goodness.