Just a quick intro by me (Noly) before I hand the metaphorical mic (or the keyboard) over to a special guest. I recently discovered a new favourite author: the lovely and sweet and down-to-earth Kiley Dunbar. I saw one of her tweets and discovered her most recent book. I was sold instantly. You can read what I thought about the book, Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, here and make your own impression. Kiley was also so kind to reveal some behind-the-scenes-info of her writing process with me and you, and this is it! She wrote this beautiful post for us: “Mood Boards for Writing Inspiration”! Thank you so much, Kiley!
Mood Boards for Writing Inspiration by Kiley Dunbar
Now I’m not talking Pinterest here or any other techy collaging app. I’m here to sing the praises of scissors and pins, photos, postcards, printouts and found treasures; anything that can be artfully cobbled together to help capture the aesthetic of your current writing project. I’ve made old-school mood boards for all my books so far. At first they got a few raised eyebrows (probably still do), possibly because of all the pictures of beautiful people plastered all over them and their faint whiff of Blue Peter home-craftiness. I’m going to take you on a walk through my board, letting you in on the inspiration behind my latest book Summer at the Highland Coral Beach (Hera Books, out now)
There’s quite a lot of Sam Heughan from his Autumn/Winter Barbour clothing campaigns on there, looking all cosy, practical and outdoorsy. That’s exactly the inspiration I needed for my main character Atholl Fergusson. Atholl helps his brother run the family B&B, The Princess and the Pea Inn. The inn holds all kinds of secrets, including the reason why Atholl’s put all his dreams and ambitions on hold – and he’s increasingly grumpy because of it.
It takes the arrival of runaway Bea to help him see his ambitions to open his own craft school are within reach. She has just the right amount of organisational zeal and a talent for bringing communities together to help Atholl – and along the way she changes the lives of the residents of sleepy Port Willow.
On a whim Bea has escaped her life in Warwickshire and found herself among the pristine beaches, palm trees, fishing boats, hills and lochs of Port Willow. The serenity of the natural environment brings her peace and helps her healing process. Months before, Bea lost a longed for baby and the miscarriage exposed the fragility of her long term relationship. She hasn’t allowed herself to grieve yet but here she has no choice but to face her feelings when she finds herself alone in the highlands.
Do you like the picture of the towering fairy-tale bed in the middle of my board? That’s Bea’s bedroom at the Inn, and above it there’s the craft workshop interior that’s buried away in Atholl’s imagination.
The landscapes on my mood board helped remind me of a recent family holiday in Plockton in the Scottish highlands (they’re all holiday snaps). If you look closely you’ll see me swimming in the crystal clear waters off the Coral Beach near Plockton (bottom right) which came to be an important setting for Atholl and Bea’s love story. Although Port Willow looks a wee bit like Plockton, I’ve reimagined the history of the place so my book’s not a faithful guide to the real place whatsoever. It’s altogether more magical, nostalgic and lost in time than that.
Lastly on the mood board – and they’re hard to spot – there are tartan ribbons, one of which clasps some lucky white heather. These came from the boutonnieres that we wore to my wee cousin’s Edinburgh wedding where we had a smashing night of ceilidh dancing.
The action of the book culminates in a beautiful harvest celebration ceilidh at the inn as summer draws to a close and Bea has to decide whether she stays or leave. Atholl Fergusson in his traditional kilt and sporran is quite a sight to behold! But that’s not on the board. Some things an author has to conjure up for herself.
I hope as you read Summer at the Highland Coral Beach you’ll be able to see in your mind’s eye sunny Port Willow, broken hearted Bea, dreamy Atholl, and their (increasingly romantic) dates swimming off the Coral Beach, their day trip to the fairy pools on Skye (also pictured, bottom left), as well as Bea’s sleepless nights at the top of the ladder of her princess bed as she does some soul searching.
I’ve unpinned all these treasured pictures now and made a new board for the love story I’m currently writing, but I adored bringing Atholl and Bea’s romance to life and I hope you enjoy getting to know them too after your tour around my mood board.
Love, Kiley, x
You can find Summer at the Highland Coral Beach on sale here, currently only 99p:
Kiley Dunbar is the author of heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places for Hera Books. She is Scottish and lives in England with her partner, two kids and Amos the Bedlington Terrier. She writes around her work at a University in the North of England where she lectures in English literature and creative writing. She is proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, a graduate of their New Writers’ Scheme and a nominee for the Joan Hessayon Award 2019.
You can find Kiley on Twitter @KileyDunbar and on the ‘Kiley Dunbar Author Book Page’ on Facebook.
Extract from Summer at the Highland Coral Beach by Kiley Dunbar
The gulls squawk from their lookout on the sweet damp thatch of the But and Ben roof high above the coral beach where once in a harvest moon the tides swirl in treacherous currents beneath a calm surface.
The stubbly fields to the east are dotted with newly wrapped bales, the combines and tractors all now returned to their sheds.
The cows and their calves have been rounded up from Rother Path and are now safely enclosed for the evening in their meadow, the great red bull lowing to them over the hedge from the next field.
Every farm worker from the cottages dotted over the hills behind the village has downed tools after their long summer’s work and is now taking to the country lanes in their smartest clothes, all scrubbed knees and swishing tartan.
The noisy gulls lift effortlessly onto the cool, late-August breeze which is scented with the workers’ cologne, lavender, willow sap and sea salt, and they glide high in the air, their serene glassy eyes fixed on Port Willow and the last of the afternoon’s tourist fishing boats now returning to the harbour with their small catch.
In the village, the streets are cleared of cars for the purposes of dancing and criss-crossed with cheerful bunting strung between every window and street lamp, and the white lightbulbs along the jetty gleam out in the dying light.
A boat, newly arrived from Skye and filled with red-haired children is mooring up at the jetty, and the older children help a white-haired, elderly woman step ashore in her ancient Highland mink and pearls.
All the villagers are leaving their houses and slowly strolling, remarking to their neighbours about how quickly the summer has passed and how the dark nights will soon be drawing in. Their chatter mingles with the drone of the piper’s chanter as he works his lungs and the rest of the ceilidh band try their instruments ahead of a long night’s dancing at The Princess and the Pea Inn.
This is the best and brightest night in Port Willow’s ritual year. This is Harvest Home.
No one sees the woman sitting in the inn garden on the promenade, shielded from the bustling street by bushes radiant with drooping red rosehips. A tartan blanket protects her white dress from the damp bench as she clasps her steaming mug of tea and waits patiently.
‘There you are. I’ve been walking the prom looking for you.’
Throwing the blanket off her shoulders, Beatrice stood and faced Atholl, smoothing down her white, full skirted dress and adjusting the tartan sash with its large bow at her shoulder. Mrs Mair had fixed it to the bodice only an hour earlier using a gleaming brown agate brooch with a small posy of white heather shoved behind its clasp, and the older woman’s eyes had misted and her voice wavered as she spoke about her daughter far away who had once upon a time been the bonniest girl at the Harvest Home celebrations.
Beatrice hadn’t felt so sure she could pull off Louisa Mair’s Highland look this evening, thinking it old-fashioned and just far too Scottish, but Atholl’s expression told a different story.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he uttered. Instantly abashed, the colour rose in his pale cheeks. Beatrice wondered if he’d meant to say it, but her thoughts were stolen away as she looked at Atholl.
Six foot of Scottish redhead stared back, his curls dampened and swept behind his ears showing his squared jawline and fine, high cheekbones. The muscles in his jaw worked and his blue eyes shone as he let her look him over in his Highland shirt, open at the throat and with the smallest touch of creamy lace at his cuffs. One shoulder was draped over with a heavy tartan sash which hung behind him in neat folds. The silver buckle on his thick leather belt glinted in the early evening light and the mossy green kilt hung in thick pleats to his knees. She scanned his taut muscled calves, the thick Highland wool socks and gleaming brown leather boots. Distractedly, she lifted a hand to her hair which was pinned up in a bundle of curls – Cheryl and Jillian’s handiwork – and tucked a soft strand behind her ear.
‘What are ye doing sitting out here?’ he asked.
‘I wasn’t sure if I was going in.’
‘And are you?’
‘I am now. I wasn’t going to fight against a tide that wanted me to stay away.’
Atholl’s brow crumpled in confusion.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said quickly, dismissing her words with a wave of her hand.
208 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mood Boards for Writing Inspiration by Kiley Dunbar”
It was so nice to find this while scrolling and re-read it in November 2022. I got all nostalgic!
Thank you again for having me on your lovely blog, Noly, x
Aww thank you so much for your lovely comment, Kiley! I loved having you🥰 If you’re ever interested in something similar you are always welcome💕