I’ve dreamed about visiting Israel for almost forty-five years, so when I got the chance to visit there recently, I jumped at it.

It’s a funny thing about dreams, especially those you’ve held in your heart for almost a lifetime. In their realization they can go spectacularly wrong, but sometimes…. sometimes… they go spectacularly right.

Travelling alone (I will blog about that at a later date) I joined a ‘Holy Land’ tour of Israel which took us to most of the expected sites – Bethlehem, Nazareth, The Dead Sea, The Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, The River Jordan – but the absolute highlight of my trip was our visit to Masada.

My knowledge of ancient history is woefully pitiful. I’d heard of Masada – I knew vaguely that some kind of massacre had taken place there – but I wasn’t prepared for the effect it had on me. It truly touched my soul.

Surrounded by desert, Masada is a mountain fortress built by King Herod the Great. (He’s the King Herod who ordered the slaughter of all infant boys when Jesus was a baby.  It was one of his sons, also called Herod, who was king during at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.)

Built with luxury in mind, note the double floor on the steam room and the remaining evidence of frescoes on the walls.

Although his family spent time there, Herod himself never actually visited the fortress, which was built with both protection and luxury in mind. Temperatures in the desert can reach 50+C in summer, but one part of his private palace was built in such a way it catches a gentle breeze rippling up from The Dead Sea.

Most people have heard of Masada from the attack on the fort by the Romans in 72AD. Instructed by the emperor to put down the revolt by Jewish Zealots, the army commander, Silva, had a limited time span to take over the fort.  He knew his army of 6,000 soldiers and 10,000 slaves would not survive the summer heat of the desert in a long siege. So he first created a supply route from Jericho to Ein Gedi to the eight camps that surrounded the base of the Masada. In the autumn of that year he began his siege, with his slaves building a massive earth ramp up the mountainside. Once it was completed, a battering ram was pushed up the ramp to break down the fortress’ wall.

The remains of one of the Roman forts surrounding the fortress at Masada.

With plentiful food and water to allow the Jews to withstand a siege of several years, how was Silva successful?  The slaves building the ramp were Jews who had been captured in Jerusalem. If the Jews in Masada had poured oil, thrown rocks or shot arrows at those slaves, they would be killing their own.  So they had to watch day after day as the ramp grew larger and closer.

The earth ramp the slaves built up to Masada.

Silva breached the walls late one afternoon. Fearful his soldiers might be walking into an ambush in the dark, he decided against entering the fort until the next morning.

Knowing his people were facing imminent crucifixion or slavery, the Jewish leader, Elazar Ben-Yair, called his men together and they decided to die at their own hands rather than be captured. The men killed their wives and children, then a lottery was held – 10 men were chosen to be the executioners of the rest, with one man left to commit suicide once everyone else was dead.

When the Romans arrived next morning, it was to find a place of death – except for two women and three children who had hidden to escape the slaughter. The Romans allowed them to go free.


House/pet sitting in the UK

I love travelling, but I’m not made of money, so I have to watch my budget and think of ways to travel a little more cheaply.  A few months ago, I offered my house/pet-sitting services to friends and family (free in exchange for the use of their homes in the UK) and am currently undertaking my first ‘job’.

I am thoroughly enjoying myself, but it’s been a huge learning experience. Here are a few of the things things I have learned that will help me (and perhaps you) next time. Most of them are common sense, but they’re always worth repeating.

Most importantly –  If you can, try and spend 24 hours in the house/with the animal before the owners leave.  Ensure you have their contact details.

Wish I could put her in my suitcase and bring her home with me!


Keep to the animal’s routine, not yours.  (eg Walking, feeding etc.)

Make sure you know what food they eat – where to buy more if you run out – and only give them allowed treats.

Keep to the owner’s rules  (eg not being allowed to climb on furniture etc) not yours.  I’m a big softie, and the dog I’m looking after can sense that, so she’s tried to push a few boundaries. It would be so easy to give in… but that wouldn’t be fair on her. Or my friends.

Know the animal’s health history.  Know any medications and how to give them.  (eg must they be taken with food?)  Know the vet’s phone number, address, opening and emergency hours, and ensure you know how to get there if needed.

Does the owner need to be informed before you take the animal to the vet, or are they willing to leave it to your judgement? How will the vet bill be paid?


Know who are the spare key holders.  Carry their phone numbers with you when you go out… just in case you lock yourself out. (Haven’t done this myself, but you never know.)

Have a list of all emergency contacts – electricity, gas etc.  Get neighbours’ phone numbers if you can.

If there is an alarm system, make sure you know how to use it and ensure you do, as it could affect their house insurance if you don’t.

British homes can be quite different to North American ones, especially when it comes to the heating systems.  Heat is usually not left on 24 hours a day, so make sure you know how to use and override the timer in case you need to.  I have been asked to monitor the boiler pressure every two days, so make sure the owner writes down exactly how to adjust it.


In North America, it’s common to insure the car rather than the driver. In the UK, it’s the other way around. If you are going to be driving the owner’s car in the UK, confirm that it will be insured for you, know the exact dates,  and know where the papers are.

Remember to drive on the correct side of the road.  :o)

A few years ago, I bought a cheap UK satnav because I visit here so often.  If you have one that works overseas, bring it along, just in case the owners don’t have one, or you can’t figure out how to operate it. (Ahem!)


I wouldn’t have thought about this except I fell on the street while out walking the dog yesterday, crunched my knees and barely missed hitting my head.  It’s unlikely – but possible – that something might happen to you, so be prepared for a worst-case scenario.

Carry your phone with you.  Consider buying a cheap one when you are in the UK so you don’t have to pay carrier fees, or arrange a plan with your usual carrier before you leave home.  You can buy a basic phone in the UK for about $20 with a pay-as-you go facility.

Buy adequate health insurance before you leave home.

Have someone to call in an emergency.

Have someone who can take care of the animal(s) if you become incapacitated.

Consider house sitting with a friend, so there is someone to take over if anything happens to you.

It’s quite a responsibility looking after someone else’s home and animal, but I have to say I’m loving it as I’m not allowed to have a dog where I live.  It’s a ‘quiet’ kind of holiday. I’m not dashing around taking in all the sights, although I could if I wanted as I have the use of my friend’s car, and the dog is used to being on its own all day. But I’m loving going for long walks with the dog and just… puttering and relaxing. Neighbours and friends have been very welcoming – and I’m enjoying the chance to slow down.


View across the Forth

Wow!  Is it really so long since I last added a post.  I guess so.

I had an amazing trip back to Scotland a few months ago.  There were many very special moments: staying in a renovated 15th century castle; a ghost tour of Edinburgh; delicious scones at all the National Trust properties we visited; visiting old castles; horse-riding along the beach; long, lazy chats with old friends; visiting family; did I mention the National Trust scones…

But perhaps the biggest highlight for me was visiting the town of Culross (pronounced q-ross), in Fife, not far from Edinburgh on the other side of the Forth.  As the guide-book says, ‘Culross is a town which time has passed by; the most complete example in Scotland today of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries’.

One of the old streets in Culross

Not the Mediterranean but Culross Palace courtyard.

The Mercat Cross – used in Outlander

If the town reminds you of a film set, it is, in fact, frequently used as one! If you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, many of the buildings are instantly recognisable, including Geillis Duncan’s home, or the market cross where a young lad has his ear nailed to a post.

Lost in time it may be, but it is a thriving community. There’s little I can say to adequately describe what a fascinating place Culross is.  From its Palace and garden, to the Town house, Stinking Wynd (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell), Mercat Cross, House with Evil Eyes, Abbey and Abbey House, to the stunning views across the Forth, not to mention the great coffee shops, there’s something for everyone.






Notes from the workshop given by Diana Cranstoun at When Words Collide, Calgary, August 11th, 2017.

Biography/Autobiography: the story OF someone’s life.  (Beginning to end, chronological order.)
Memoir: a story FROM someone’s life. (Eg Wartime Memoir)

Family member?

If it is about another person, where are you going to get your research from?

Your family?
For general publication?

Your answer will affect what you put in your memoir and how you present it.


You have a story to tell that only YOU can tell.

  • We all have unique experiences in our lives. If you don’t tell your story, who will?
  • You may have a secret to share.
    • Big Secret – you may have participated in some major event that you have not been able to tell people about.
    • Little Secret – something small, but unique experience that people don’t know about you.
    • Family Secret: Illegitimacy, secret marriage. Eg Who Do You Think You Are.

Understand the past:

  • Writing a memoir can be a gift to yourself – allows you to look back on your life – as well as to future generations.
  • As your past takes shape you may gain a clearer vision of who you are.

Heal from A Traumatic Experience:

  • Allows you to connect with people who may have experienced something similar and offer them encouragement, comfort, inspiration and the assurance that they – and you – are not alone.

Preserve a Family Legacy

  • If you are interested about your parents’, grandparents’ or family members’ lives, sometime in the future, someone may be interested in YOU.


  • Don’t write one for revenge. You don’t want anything out there that is going to harm yourself or someone else.

Please check out this website for interesting insight.

10 ways to tell if a story should be a memoir or a novel by Adair Lara.

Not everyone is comfortable putting pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – to write a book, but there are many ways to tell your story.

Edinburgh – City of Writers

You’ve got to love a city that has a museum dedicated to writers.  The three celebrated in Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and R.L. Stevenson – remain widely read and revered even today.  Sir Walter Scott has been credited with ‘inventing’ the historical novel with tales like Kidnapped and Ivanhoe, we all sing Robert Burns’ most famous song, “Should Auld Aquaintance Be Forgot,” at New Year, and who hasn’t dreamed of finding their own Treasure Island or been frightened by a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character.

writers museum

For a small city of less than half-a-million people, Edinburgh has produced (or been the home to) an amazing number of writers.  Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Irvine Welsh, J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin, Robert Fergusson, Muriel Spark, Kenneth Grahame.

Outwith Edinburgh, the list of Scottish writers includes J.M. Barrie, Val McDermid, Louis Welsh, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Nigel Tranter, Alistair MacLean, A.J. Cronin, Dorothy Dunnett, George MacKay Brown… it goes on and on. and on…

For a wee country, Scotland delivers a ‘muckle’ literary punch.

writer quote

In My Father’s Footsteps

A bit of back story. In 2009, I visited France with my friend Anna to retrace my father’s desperate journey from the small village, Vis-en-Artois – where he was stationed with the British Army 1940 – to the spot on the bloody beaches of Dunkirk where he was plucked to safety by one of the ‘little boats’.

I had written to the mayor asking if anyone remembered Dad. The mayor passed my letter on to Madame B, who had been a child during the war.We visited her and had a lovely day. She didn’t remember my dad, but just as we were about to leave, she said, ‘Come back on Monday. My friend Noel knew your father.’

* * *

Excerpt from In My Father’s Footsteps by Diana Cranstoun.

Monday, we return to Vis-en-Artois. We’re the first to arrive at Madame B’s. My husband has e-mailed a picture taken of my Mum and Dad taken in 1936. It’s one of my favourites. They look so young. So Happy. So in love.

I’m expecting Noel to be a woman, but of course that would be Noelle. Noel is accompanied by his wife. Like Madame B, they are both friendly, alert, white-haired, fresh-faced, on the ball.

1936 copy copyWe’re introduced,  I show him the photo of Mum and Dad. ‘Ahh.’ He smacks the picture in that Gallic way. “Jacques Cranstoon.’

But I’m not totally sold. After all, I wrote Dad’s name in my letter to the mayor and perhaps Noel wants this connection to the past as much as I do.

And then he says something that sends a shiver up my spine. ‘Et votre mere, Marie.’


Nowhere – nowhere – had I written my mother’s name. This is very, very, real.

We talk, Anna interpreting as I catch only every fourth or fifth word. My dad was billeted next door to Noel’s family. Throughout that bitter winter of 39/40, with no heat or lighting in their accommodation, Dad and another married soldier visited Noel’s family’s warm house every Friday evening to write letters home to their wives.

Noel reaches into his pocket, pulls out a small, rather battered brown leather diary, and offers it to me. ‘Your dad gave it to him for Christmas 1939,” Anna translates.

The hairs on my arms stand on end. It’s as though, to borrow a quote from Alan Bennett’s History Boys, a hand has reached out of the past and taken mine.

My Dad, dead for 30 years, is in the room with us.



Look at any diagram of three-act-structure and you’ll find two main turning/plot points (Act One into Act Two/ Act Two into Act Three) and a midpoint.

Michael Hauge calls the midpoint, the Point of No Return (PONR). In aviation terms, the Point of No Return is that point in a flight where the aircraft does not have enough fuel to return to its point of departure, and must make it to its destination safely or crash and burn.

At the PONR in a story, something happens in the ‘plot’ that will turn the story around and take it fractionally closer to the end than the beginning. There is no going back. For example, in a mystery novel, it might be a clue that finally puts the detective on the right path to solving the crime.

When it comes to character development, something will happen here that allows the character to become closer to the person he will be at the end of the story than he was in the beginning.

James Scott Bell calls this the ‘Mirror Moment’. He says: ‘What I detect is a character point, something internal, which has the added benefit of bonding audience and character on a deeper level.’ It’s a moment, not a whole scene. He also says, the midpoint of your story is where your character faces some kind of death.

  • Physical – where there is a real threat to his life.
  • Professional – where his reputation is on the line.
  • Psychological – where something inside the character changes.

JK Rowling says, ‘It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities,’ and it will be at this point in the story where a character makes a choice – or understands the ramifications of past choices – that gives them a glimpse of who they truly are, or want to be. It is the moment of transformation from who the character was, to who they will become. It’s when they get the chance to look in a metaphorical mirror and see themselves in a new light.

CASINO ROYALE: There are stories where the character doesn’t change/arc – James Bond. Hercule Poirot. Indiana Jones. Miss Marple – but every rule comes with an exception. Casino Royale – the version with Daniel Craig – tells the story of how James Bond becomes ‘James Bond’, so the character does arc in this story. Check out this ‘mirror moment’ in Casino Royale – halfway through the movie – which actually uses a mirror!

Look at the dress Bond brings for Vesper Lynd to wear. It’s on a plastic hanger and looks like it’s just come from the dry cleaner’s. Compare that with the tuxedo she has for him. And that moment, when he wears a tailored suit for the first time ever, watch his reaction when he looks at himself in the mirror. He’s seeing himself a little differently. Interestingly enough, this is the first time you will hear the strains of the Bond theme in this movie.

Contrast that with the last scene in the movie where he is fully revealed as ‘James Bond’ and we hear to whole theme for the first time.


PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Open Pride and Prejudice half way through the book and you will find a couple of scenes: 1) Where Darcy visits Elizabeth and offers her a horrible proposal of marriage. 2) Where Elizabeth reads the letter Darcy writes to her following her refusal of his offer.

The title Pride and Prejudice tells you what the book is about. Both Darcy and Elizabeth are proud people – he of his wealth and position, she of her ‘discernment’. For them to end up together at the end of the book, they’ll both have to find a bit of humility and get rid of their prejudices.

And the first stirrings of that happens in the middle of the story. Darcy is so shocked by Elizabeth’s refusal – ‘And this,’ cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, ‘is your opinion of me!’ – that he goes home and writes Elizabeth a letter explaining the truth about Wickham. After she finishes reading it, Elizabeth says, ‘ How despicably have I acted!’ she cried. ‘I who prided myself on my discernment…. Till this moment, I never knew myself.’

(Ironically, there is a mirror in this scene!)

Elizabeth and Darcy still have a long way to go before that second – successful – proposal at the end of the book, but at the midpoint of the story, they cross that line from being who they were, and how they saw themselves and each other, to who they will be by the end.

THE HUNGER GAMES: Set in a dystopian future, Katniss Evergreen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the murderous Hunger Games, where out of 24 participants, only one victor will be left alive at the end.

Midway through the book/film, Katniss finds herself facing physical death. She has no weapons – except for a knife – is trapped up a tree, and is literally waiting to die when daylight comes. Then something happens which can change her fortune, but only if she decides to go for it. Watch carefully for that ‘moment’ when Katniss realizes she has a chance to live. By the end of the scene, she has a weapon she is skilled in using, has killed some of her deadliest opponents, and has allies in Rue and Peeta.

DANTE’S PEAK: A perfect example of when the midpoint of action and character development meets beautifully. (Unfortunately there is no Youtube link for this.)

A mountain is threatening to erupt, but the scientists won’t know for sure until sulphur gets into the water supply. Hero and heroine have been badly hurt in previous relationships and wary of becoming involved with anyone again.

Midpoint of the story is when hero and heroine come back from enjoying an evening at the bar. She sends the babysitter home and invites him in for coffee. Both are nervous – ‘I haven’t been with anyone in a long time.’ – and are leaning in for their first kiss when her daughter calls down from upstairs. She’s thirsty. Can she have a glass of water? The heroine turns on the tap. It’s contaminated with sulphur.

The mountain is now going to blow – not right this minute – but there is no doubt it’s going to go.

Hero and heroine have taken the joint risk to open up their hearts again. (In a love story, the midpoint is often where the hero and heroine will kiss or make love.)