Posted by: gillarbuthnott | June 15, 2019

Writing away from home

IMG_20190611_113139_671I’ve just spent a week in Corfu, mixing writing with holiday (and getting away from truly awful weather, even by Scottish standards). I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t have the discipline to actually do the writing, but a couple of hours in the shade in the middle of each day got me quite far through what I’d been hoping to achieve. I think it’s a good idea to write in different places regularly: it’s all too easy to become so convinced that there’s a sort of ‘magic’ about one building/room/chair that it becomes hard to work away from it. I enjoy working in trains, as long as there’s no one sitting next to me, surreptitiously reading what I’m doing – though if I’m writing by hand, they wouldn’t be able to read it anyway…

DSC_0003_22So this was writing HQ, and very pleasant it was too, but now it’s back to my cluttered desk and probably rain running down the window and all the distractions of home –  including, this week, the launch of my new book, Balloon to the Moon, and my son’s graduation. At least they’re quality distractions!

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | June 6, 2019

Meeting an old friend…

Image result for so much life left overI’m currently reading So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernieres (don’t know why it’s taken me until now to find it) and am delighted to find that Doctor Iannis from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has a small role in it. Since he’s one of my favourite characters in fiction, the discovery brought a genuine smile to my face. I love it when things like this happen, and characters have walk-on roles in a number of books. It’s one of the (many) reasons I love Terry Pratchett and David Mitchell. Yes, I know it might seem odd to have them in the same sentence, but you’re in my head at the moment and that’s how it is in there.

Please let me know what other authors do this so I can seek them out!

And So Much Life Left Over is just as good as I hoped it would be – of course.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 31, 2019

Getting rid of books…

Image result for piles of old booksI had to move the small bookcase where I keep the old books I’ve bought at jumble sales and such over the years, to have a new carpet laid.  When I looked at these books (for the first time in a very long time), I had to admit that I probably wouldn’t ever read most of them. I’m never going to be the person who sits down with James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Lavengro, or Dorothy Osborne’s Letters. And I certainly don’t ever want to read The House with Green Shutters again, as it’s surely the world’s most depressing book. As for 23 volumes of Walter Scott… They’re quite decorative on the shelf, but totally unreadable (I suppose that could just be me, though). I don’t suppose I can sell them, so Oxfam bookshop, here I come…

On the other hand, I did find a 2nd edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man in there, which is worth considerably more than the 7/6 sale price pencilled inside it…

I’ll definitely be keeping the Flight of the Heron trilogy, and the Dante, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the Henry James that I didn’t even know I had. And look! Now there’s some empty shelf space. Perhaps when I’m in the Oxfam bookshop…

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 22, 2019

How a pygmy elephant became a one-eyed giant…

You may have noticed the radio silence over the last week. That’s because I’ve been on holiday in Sicily, which is a truly wonderful place, steeped in the mythology of a number of civilisations.

Image result for mount etna

One of the places I visited was Mount Etna, which according to Sicilians was the place where Odysseus tricked the Cyclops Polyphemus and saved his companions from ending up as the giant’s lunch.


The Greeks were convinced they had found skulls of a number of Cyclops, and you can see why.

Image result for pygmy elephant sicily skull

However, all was not what it seemed… Far from belonging to giants, these skulls were actually from pygmies: pygmy elephants which had roamed the island in prehistoric times. No one seems quite sure when they actually became extinct on the island.

Image result for sicilian pygmy elephant

No wonder this one looks cheesed off… being misidentified as a mythical one-eyed giant… Harrumph!

But just to add to the confusion, in the mosaics in the Villa Casale, Polyphemus has three eyes, which must be fairly unusual for a cyclops.

Image result for polyphemus villa casale mosaics

It’s all too confusing. I’ll just have to go and catch up on the last 2 episodes of Game of Thrones to relax. I’m sure that’ll be just the thing to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 11, 2019

Adventure Update



Well, it took 3 hours on ferries and 13 hours on trains over 2 days, but it was worth it – I had a fantastic time visiting Mallaig and Muck.

DSC_0010_4Actually, all those hours on the train aren’t too bad when you can look out the window at scenery like this…

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Thanks to everyone at Mallaig Primary for a great visit and tremendous questions on DNA: there were definitely some budding scientists in the audience.

Eigg and Muck Primary pupils made me very welcome. I even got to play Zombie Tig with them, and that’s a first for an author visit! Here they are after being thoroughly zombified…


Add to that porpoises, seals and Minke whales on the way back to the mainland, and it was a pretty special trip…

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 8, 2019

Adventure Time!

Image result for glenfinnan viaductOne of the very best things about writing for children is that you get invited to go into schools to talk to them, and this sometimes means you get to visit exciting new places.

Tomorrow I am off on a mini-epic trip by train and ferry, firstly to Mallaig Primary to talk about DNA, and then to the isle of Muck to talk to pupils from Muck and Eigg primary schools about the human body.

This means I get to travel on the fantastic train line to Fort William, and go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct (aka route of the Hogwarts Express), and on Friday I get not one, but two ferry trips – and the chance of some whale watching.

Image result for whale near skye

So, Mallaig  – if you read this – do you think you might be a clone? And Muck and Eigg – have you ever thought just how like a doughnut you really are? You’ll find out soon!

Image result for doughnuts

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 4, 2019

The Books That Made Me #2

The Once and Future King by T H White

Image result for the once and future kingI was a gobbler of myths, moving from Greek to Norse and then to the Matter of Britain. I loved the legend of King Arthur in the numerous forms it took, from the Disney film of The Sword in the Stone to Rick Wakeman’s album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and the musical Camelot. (Don’t judge me too harshly…), My favourite version of all was T H White’s The Once and Future King, which preserved the intensity  and tragedy of the legend, and also managed to make it vivid with people who leapt off the page as being real flawed humans, and not just heroes. And that’s what still makes me return to them – the fact that the seeds of the tragic ending (No other musical ends with all the characters heading for death in battle) are sown years before by what Arthur and the others have done in their youth – the terrible, inescapable funnelling of their actions towards doom, just as though it was another Greek myth.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 3, 2019

And Here’s One That I Made…

balloon to moonWell, I’m very excited, because today I got the first sight of my latest book, Balloon to the Moon (which comes out on June 27th). It was great fun to write – I found out so much  I didn’t know while I was doing the research – and Christopher Nielsen has given it a fantastic retro look that reminds me of the books I read as a child during the 1960s, which is highly appropriate.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | May 1, 2019

The Books That Made Me

When I’m doing events, I’m often asked what my favourite childhood books were, and for some reason, my mind tends to go blank, so the next few posts are partly an aide memoire for myself. On the other hand, it was reading those books, plus many more I can’t remember, that set me on the path to being a writer, so hopefully they’ll be of some interest to others too!

Tales of the Greeks and Trojans by Roger Lancelyn Green

Image result for tales of the greeks and trojans roger lancelyn greenI was given this book as a10th birthday present by my older brother who, handily, had a holiday job in the local bookshop (James Thin, for those with long memories). I loved any sort of myths and I read it so often that even now, I can call up the distinctive illustrations in my mind’s eye.

Related imageThis one is Odysseus, returned home and about to kill Penelope’s suitors, with the bow that only he can string and draw. It was the combination of great stories and wonderful pictures (now joined, as I sniff the pages, by that irresistible ‘old book’ smell) that captivated me then and still does.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | April 26, 2019

Another Dream Dies…

untitledI’m used to talking to audiences of primary pupils in gyms and assembly halls, where they sit cross-legged on the wooden floor as I talk. but today I found myself talking in the altogether more impressive surroundings of Newbattle Abbey College, in this amazing room (and it had chairs in it too!).

At the end of the event, I had the following conversation with a pupil…

Small Boy ‘Are you famous?’

Me ‘No.’

Small Boy ‘You’re an author, you must be famous.’

Me ‘Have you ever heard of me?’

Small Boy ‘No.’

Me ‘Then I can’t be famous, can I?’

Small Boy, turning to teacher and pointing at me ‘She’s not famous!’

Me (to his retreating back) ‘And I’m not rich, either’

That sound you can hear as you read this? Another dream shattering….

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