When in Rome… kill me

When in Rome Kill me 2

Here it is at last – my very first Mary Dollar mystery. As far as introductions go, I’ll let one of the other characters describe her:

‘I can see you as a funky Miss Marple sorting out crime on the streets of Leith.’

It’s not the way Mary sees herself though, working for a slightly down-at-heel investigation agency in Edinburgh.

‘Well, the job title isn’t exactly private detective and the job’s not exciting at all. It’s better than being a civil servant though – I’ll give you that. Working for Ranald Associates, it tends to be mundane divorce and fraud cases – a lot of hanging around with not much happening, you know? People would think it’s all murder mysteries but it’s far from it.’

What’s the Rome connection?

Jez McCullough is an Edinburgh author who was hugely successful and could be relied upon to create a bit of controversy back in the day, but whose star has dimmed a bit of late. In order to rekindle some interest, Jez’s publishing company organise a promotional trip to the trendy Roman suburb of Pigneto. Ranald Associates are hired as security, giving Mary the perfect opportunity to investigate claims of plagiarism made against the company. It’s not long before Jez goes AWOL and it falls upon Mary to sort out a cryptic set of clues which might – or might not – lead to his whereabouts. The clues reference Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club and suggest the existence of a real life version – The Pigneto Suicide Club. Mary soon has to work out whether she’s being targeted as part of an elaborate advertising campaign or if – indeed – sinister forces are at work.

Funny, cryptic, with a cast of colourful characters – it’ll keep you guessing until the end!

Available now


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Trump the Unifier – you’re having a laugh!

Trump balloon

Unity is the big buzzword of the moment. But where to find it and can we get it in time to glue together our fractured (dis)United Kingdom? Look yonder over the hill – is it a monster? Or is it a giant tube of orange coloured Evo-Stik?

First rule of international relations is don’t get involved in another country’s affairs. I’m not sure if Donald Trump ever got that memo, but if he had – probably would have flushed it down his golden toilet super smart quick.

What’s the consequence of ignoring the above rule? Well, in the most extreme cases it’s means invasion and subjugation. Less extreme is when an opinionated blowhard tries to stick in his tuppence worth – as in Trump pontificating on who should be the new British PM.

If he had any idea of basic psychology, he would know that a family can fight and argue within itself but when an outsider dares to get involved – that’s the time for closing ranks.

So thank you, Mr Trump for doing what our politicians can only dream of – uniting the four nations of the United Kingdom. From Stornoway to Southend, from Orkney to Oldham, from Lisburn to Llandudno – we stand together in resisting the orange menace through our right to protest. Childish, ineffectual, unstately? Well enough about Donald Trump

There are other things that unify and typify the UK though. Britain is a wonderfully creative place and Brits have a great sense of humour which can sometimes seem a bit baffling to others. The giant, baby-Trump balloon floating above London – for example. Okay, it’s decidedly not subtle and could possibly reinforce the image of the smug liberal elites having a good old snigger/snicker at a (possibly) democratically elected politician. It’s a good laugh at the time but ultimately meaningless… perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, the great thing about British humour is we have plenty of different types to choose from. We’ve always done satire very well – from Alexander Pope and William Hogarth to Peter Cook and Chris Morris. And we can do subtle – which brings me to my own modest contribution to the anti-Trump creative industry.

As a Scottish woman, I was inspired to write a tale imagining how the decisions taken by another Scottish woman – over eighty years ago – could have such a seismic impact on our life today.  Letter from America is a Twilight Zone type fantasy which has elements of Back to the Future, Terminator and Brigadoon. Hopefully people will find it humorous but also a little poignant. The whole idea of people having to leave a land they love for whatever reason – to make money, chase a dream or perhaps because their own land isn’t fit to live in anymore. So it is anti – Trump but it’s also a valentine to immigrants, the LGBT+ community, all those who stand up to bullies – in the past and in the future… and of course the beautiful Western Isles.

** In honour of Mr Trump’s 2019 visit to the UK – I will be offering a free download of Letter from America during the three days (3 – 5 June) he’ll be gracing(!) these shores**


Hear me read the opening pages. Apologies for the dodgy American accents!


And here’s my early Trump warning (courtesy of Lone Head Records):



And part two…

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Brexit Wounds



Brexit Wounds – a warning.

We are where we are…  29th March 2019 has come and gone and Brexit still hasn’t happened. It’s almost like I had a crystal ball! Okay, I got the triggering of Article 50 wrong but, y’know… Hopefully I’ll also be wrong about the future disintegration of the UK, but who can say… ?

Brexit Wounds is my dystopian take on what could happen in the very near future.

What’s the story?

2026 – ten years on from the EU Referendum result. The result was meant to lead to a thing called Brexit which never happened. What did happen was the break-up of the United Kingdom and a relatively ‘civil’ war between the two sides: the ‘Europs’ and the ‘Britters’. However after ten years people are getting angry, leading to open warfare on the streets of the major cities owned by the Europs and in the badlands territory ruled by the Britters known as the ‘Field’. With foresight the Europs have trained their new generation to be tech-savvy soldiers ready to fight and protect. One team from Manchester Metropolitan University – lead by Scot Jenny Carstairs – is given the mission to recapture Media City in Salford and put an end to fake news broadcasting. However after they are forced off course and are left to survive in the Field they have to decide where to go and who to trust. Soon Jenny and her team start to question their orders and their beliefs as they embark on a wild and dangerous odyssey across land once known as the north of England.

It’s a novella-length read so considerably shorter than May’s Deal and hopefully more entertaining!

**Hear an extract on Soundcloud**

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Improve your life in 7 (easyish) steps


‘Happy, darling?’    ‘Yes, before I started my digital detox I read that everyone’s turning vegan.’

This year Blue Monday falls on 21st January. It’s the one day in the year when you have the perfect excuse to be miserable. The experts have calculated that debt + weather + time since the festive season + time until the next holiday = misery. And in the UK we could add the Brexit factor (other countries can add their own political cock-ups!) Instead of wallowing though, how about taking steps to improve your life for good? Here are my top tips for getting your life back on track.

1. Get your nutrition sorted:

Why is everyone talking about veganism and being plant-based? And why are a lot of people being all evangelical about it? It can’t be fake news and it can’t be big business trying to sell their stuff – that’s on the other side of the argument. I will concede there is an element of hype going on but the beautiful thing about going down this road is you never want to turn back. The benefits are that good! Of course you can be an unhealthy vegan – chips, crisps, a lot of mock meat products and various vegan friendly cakes and biscuits do not a healthy diet make. Ditch the lazy convenience, get into the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans! Yes, listening to music or podcasts or even having Netflix on in the background can make it less of a chore – or even a joy! The result? You’ll feel better, look better and you’ll save a lot of money – what’s not to like?

2. Ditch the Social Media:

Or at least limit your use or take a break. Most importantly – keep it in perspective. In the main it’s a virtual world pretending to be real, too full of its own importance with sinister elements thrown in. It’s a world that’s been predicted loads of times in science fiction and it never ends well there…   Yeah, okay –  I have a bit of a cheek telling you this on a blog. And while I do appreciate your visit and everything, I’d encourage you to turn off and discover a world that existed before the online one.

3. Get out in nature:

Any form of exercise is good but being outdoors with the sun – or even the rain – on your face, hearing the birds singing, feeling the crunch of dried twigs and leaves under your feet, looking at a view from the top of a hill are all simple but special pleasures. They must be special – think of all the artists, poets, composers and writers these things have inspired over the years. And you can be part of it – it’s out there and it’s free.

4. Interact with real people:

Just think of all the ‘friends you haven’t met yet’ out there in the real world. So get out and meet them. But – let’s be truthful – there are also a lot of arseholes out there too. Don’t let that put you off though. The advantage of interacting face to face is you can recognise an arsehole or a bully pretty quickly and then decide how to deal with them (being nice is usually a good disarming strategy). In the virtual world the arseholes and the bullies are trickier to deal with. They may seem powerful but – like the Wizard of Oz – pull back the curtain and a sad little person is exposed. How to deal with arseholes and bullies in either world? Be polite, move on, get on with your (real) life.

5. Enjoy your own company:

If you’re finding it difficult to find friends or that ‘special one’ – don’t despair. You’ve always got you – so get to work on you! Read and get knowledge, be creative, get fit, hone your cooking skills. You can do all these things on your own, right now. In the process you’ll become an super interesting prospect for a relationship/friendship. But hey – you’ll be so self sufficient and enjoying your own company so much you won’t care!

6. Know That Nobody’s Perfect:

…Despite the impression all these ‘perfect’ people strive to give on social media. As I’ve said before – it’s not the real world so don’t waste your time engaging with it. You can ponder – briefly – on why so many people do that kind of thing. Over compensation masking a deep insecurity? More than likely. Anyway, you’ll be doing your digital detox and becoming your own idea of perfection so that’s all that matters.

7. Stop Worrying:

Okay – you’ve become this self sufficient, well adjusted super being thanks to following all of the above. BUT – there is still a niggle of doubt, that little dark thought that lurks at the back of your mind. Why is it there? Why do we worry? Most importantly – how to deal with it? Whenever I’m in that place, I remind myself worrying is a ridiculous waste of time – summed up by the classic saying: ‘You die if you worry, you die if you don’t worry, so why worry?’



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Best Ever ‘Sonsie’ Vegan Haggis Recipe

‘Sonsie’ can mean a lot of things: pleasing, cheerful, buxom – even. I think this vegan haggis has all those things going for it, and with no animal by products is suitable for vegans or people who would just rather not think about what goes into a traditional one!

A lot of manufactured vegan/veggie haggis has a smooth, pudding-y consistency which can be a bit stodgy. With its rich combination of lentils, nuts, oatmeal and tri colour quinoa this recipe has a more pleasing ‘rough’ texture and is very easy to make. The quantities below make enough haggis for 6 hungry people and – as (nearly) all the ingredients can be sourced from Aldi – the cost is super tiny! Under £2!!!!!

This vegan haggis isn’t only for Burns Night (or St Andrew’s day/night) – the basic recipe makes a super versatile meat substitute. You can make in bulk (it freezes well) and it can be fried up, baked up and served up in a number of different ways: cut and shape in place of sausage type meat or rough it up for vegan mince (great for stuffing veg). You can make it classy by serving it en croute (a la vegan sausage roll) or in a filo parcel. Cut into squares, it’s just great to snack on cold. It also fries up very nicely and it’s the perfect star turn in a naughty but nice vegan brunch or part of a healthy salad. It’s protein and fibre packed too – what’s not to like?



30g salted peanuts

30g hazelnuts

80g medium oatmeal

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

600ml vegetable stock

55g tri colour quinoa

55g green lentils

55g red lentils

1 tablespoon cooking oil of choice (olive, groundnut, rapeseed etc.)

1 medium sized (100g) onion

1 medium sized (100g) carrot

100g mushrooms

130g red kidney beans

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

OK – let’s get to work!

1. Whizz the nuts up roughly.


2. Add the whizzed nuts to the oatmeal, mixed spice, herbs and nutritional yeast. Give it a good old stir.

IMG_20190116_111836 (1).jpg

3. Rinse the green lentils and the quinoa in a sieve. Add both to the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins. Rinse and cook the red lentils in a separate pan (red lentils cook much quicker – 5-10 mins – so it’s better to do it this way). DON’T let the lentils go mushy OR boil dry. A good tip is to put the lids on the pans and turn off the heat 5 mins before the end of the cooking time and let the steam finish the job.

Exif_JPEG_4204. While the lentils and quinoa are bubbling away, prepare the veg. Peel/clean the onion, carrot and mushrooms. Cut into large chunks and then whizz up to a finely chopped consistency. Saute in the cooking oil until starting to brown. Rinse and whizz up the kidney beans.


5. Ingredients assemble! We’re nearly there…


6. Mix everything together in a large mixing bowl. Add the soy sauce and lemon juice. Check the seasoning and add salt & pepper and possibly more soy sauce if you think it needs it.

IMG_20190116_120440 (1).jpg

7. Pile your wonderful haggis mix into your favourite baking dish/tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 deg C ) for approx 30 mins. You might need to cover the dish/tin with a lid or foil for the bulk of the cooking time and then remove 5-10 mins before the end.

IMG_20190116_121040 (1).jpg

8. Ready! Delish!


Slainte! (cheers!)


Serving tips:

The above photo shows what a traditional haggis supper should look like. It’s always served with mashed swede and mashed potato (‘neeps and tatties’) and a glass of whisky (of course!). You can mash it up with different root veg mash-ups (celeriac, turnip, sweet potato, parsnip). Experiment! Go wild!

The baked finished product lends itself to being cut into squares or any other shape you fancy so you can go all food art and make neat little constructions with the veg layered on top. Personally, I like to go with the traditional look.

Talking of which – on the plate the haggis should have a rough and dark look (think of a pre-Bond Sean Connery… ) My top tip is to make and bake the haggis in advance and then scoop it out and rough it up in a frying pan, with a bit of oil, over a medium heat.

What’s not to like?

I’ve said it before – but I’ll say it again – this recipe is staggeringly cheap to make. I calculated around the £1.80 mark. Stick on another £1.50 for the root veg and you have a vegan Burns Night Supper for six folk for little over three quid!!! All the more money to spend on the whisky (which is also vegan)!

At the time of writing – and shopping at my local Aldi here in Edinburgh – I could get all the ingredients in one shop apart from the oatmeal and the green lentils (I got those in a nearby Home Bargains where they were super cheap but you won’t have to spend much, wherever you buy).

Alts & tweaks:

If you really, really want to spend more money and pimp the basic recipe – Beluga (black) or Puy (dark green) lentils work a treat. NOT from a can or pre-cooked in a packet though as mushy is no good! Also, many people think chestnut mushrooms are a bit more sonsie than their pale cousins but I don’t know if they bring that much extra to the party. If you can lay your hands on them at a good price (Aldi usually stock them) – go for it!

Cheers! Slainte! Enjoy!

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The Rachel Revolution

Rachel Revolution

‘I heard a theory saying Brexit was the answer to Rachel’s death. The British people hate foreigners because they killed her.’

‘I thought the British answer was to bomb countries in the Middle East.’

‘Of course, the biggest conspiracy theory is the British government killed her.’

The death of the Prime Minister’s wife shocked the world. People mourned and an illegal war was waged in her name. Three years on – the immigration crisis; terrorism; Brexit; fake news; corruption and scandal in high places threaten to tear the world apart. The image of Rachel Briars is held up as a beacon of hope. The Vatican is making her a saint. NGOs and charities are turning her into an humanitarian icon. Others see her as an object of desire – like the Russian oligarch who wants to possess her and her ‘widowed’ husband who wants her back. Rachel just wants to stay dead.

As the third anniversary of her death approaches – the legacy of Rachel Briars is still a potent force. Visions of her appear in Lesbos, performing miracles amidst the refugee crisis and she is seen in Nigeria taking on Boko Haram. Divine visions, body doubles or proof her death was faked? In the age of media manipulation and alternative facts – who knows what to believe? Soon the battle is on between powerful organisations and individuals who want to either hunt her down or keep her hidden.

The Rachel Revolution is the explosive follow up to The Rachel Redemption. It brings back a cast of vivid characters from the first book – ready to take on the zeitgeist and unfinished business.

Rebecca (Rachel’s lookalike) and Mark (her bodyguard) are helping with the refugee crisis in Lesbos after Mark suffers a personal tragedy while fighting as a mercenary in Nigeria. Father Francesco Lombardi has returned to Rome and is working with the Vatican and gangster/political agitator Marcello Destro to manage the local immigration issue. They are assisted by Alessandro – Francesco’s young protege – who is ravaged with guilt at becoming a killer. In the UK – Hugh Rawksley is making a bid to take over from George Briars as PM after the Brexit fiasco – but is he being directed from Moscow? George’s aid – Alex Glaister – has his own problems, facing sexual harassment and viewing porn at work charges. The emissaries of Grigori Rublev are also chasing him to provide a suitable Rachel lookalike as a trophy plaything for the Russian oligarch. As the hunt for Rachel continues, Mark returns to Nigeria to track her down. At the centre is young investigative journalist – Tina Neri – who is desperate to extract the truth from an international web of lies – however dangerous it might prove to be for her.

Bold, topical, action packed – like a bang-up-to-date feminist James Bond – it’s the ultimate fake-news conspiracy thriller.

**Now available in print form**

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Thanks Nanny – what a state!

Harry LauderI have to say I was a little disconcerted the other night when I saw Glenn Campbell on Reporting Scotland holding aloft an Aldi two litre bottle of cider (the brand name is Taurus for all of you who want to grab a pre prohibition bargain). It wasn’t so much that he was outing my not-so-guilty and not-so-secret pleasure for a Saturday night in front of Strictly. No, the real shocker was the news the price would be hiked from a very reasonable £2 to a frankly quite ridiculous £5. Do I have a drink problem? Well, I do now – thanks to the Scottish Government getting the go-ahead to impose minimum pricing on alcohol.

‘But it will save lives and help the NHS’ chorus Nicola Sturgeon and her chatterati pals whom I can just imagine in Bute House toasting their success, no doubt with a nice little drop of malt or a glass of claret or some other reassuringly expensive drink which will remain unaffected by the ruling. Like a bunch of Marie Antoinettes without the intelligence or the dress sense. ‘Let them eat cake’ indeed – which brings me to my next point…

Obesity and Type II Diabetes make up the huge disgusting elephant in the Scottish NHS waiting room. But will the Scot Gov introduce a fat tax in order to address the problem? Probably not. Will they even re-direct resources to help promote a healthy lifestyle in poorer areas of Scotland? Well, if they haven’t done it by now…  And do you know what the most scandalous/ironic aspect of this whole debacle is? Most people think it’s a tax. It’s not – the extra money will go to the producer/retailer and will not go to making some magic dust to sprinkle over the ugly gaping wound of alcoholism.

Yes, that’s right. I’m not a heartless bitch whose only concern is getting my cheap cider. I care about alcoholism, all kinds of addiction – whether it be junk food or crack cocaine –  and the poverty trap which nurtures the hopelessness that sparks the desire for these things in the first place. In another life I was an alcohol counsellor and I know that people don’t become (and remain) alcoholics merely because there are cheap deals available. Alcoholics are addicts, and addicts will get their fix – whatever the price.*

You can probably tell – as a responsible drinker with not a huge disposable income – I’m not best pleased. But apart from it being a hypocritical and ineffectual sticking-plaster for the ills of a very sick (in the most literal sense) nation it kind of screws up the whole idea of a free market economy.

So well done, nanny state for making both Adam Smith and Harry Lauder spin in their graves! Slainte!! *

* If you want a translation I believe you can tweet Alex Salmond but there may be a delay of a day or so before getting an answer!

**July 2019 update** Just over one year of minimum pricing – and what’s been the effect? As far as statistics go, it probably is too early to measure any significant changes. And even further down the line, stats can be massaged and squeezed to fit in with a number of different agendas. One recent set of figures that can’t be denied though is the truly shocking number of deaths in Scotland due to drug abuse (drugs, of course, impervious to minimum pricing but their increased usage possibly linked to alcohol min pricing). Even more shocking is the various sides inevitably trying to make political capital out of the whole sorry mess. ‘The government is to blame!’ Aye, but which government? I couldn’t possibly comment – but my advice to those in charge would be – stop blaming others, forget about chasing dreams and deal with the important issues. Maybe make a start by concentrating on this country’s development and then you might convince the population that  you don’t need to be drugged up to the eyeballs to live here.

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