Filling the Well

On Facebook this week, a ‘memory’ popped up in my newsfeed of a post I’d written a year ago about heading off to Moniack Mhor on a writing retreat. I’d claimed that I needed to cut myself off to get my next novel underway. My excuses for the retreat were that I had two demanding jobs at the time and had been too busy promoting Buy Buy Baby to focus on new writing. So, a year later, what’s the progress with my WIP (work in progress)? Not very much!

I’ve only got one part-time job now and the book promo has died down so there’s no real reason for me not to be churning out the words. Except that I needed space and time to catch up with myself and as Julia Cameron refers to in her book, The Artist’s Way, it was important for me to “fill the well”. She feels that we need an inner reservoir to draw from if we are going to be able to create. The reservoir is like a well which acts as a creative ecosystem that we need to care for and she warns that, “If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.” This makes perfect sense to me. I still feel strongly about the idea for my WIP but I also feel strongly that it’s important to read, try new things, go to events and basically reengage with all the other stuff I love doing in life and also sometimes to do nothing but relax.

Feeling elated to have achieved my ‘Everest’!

Fan girl moment with Roddy Doyle!

Overwhelmed by the feat of modern engineering at the Queensferry Crossing.

So over the summer I’ve read a lot more, been hill walking all over central Scotland, got into swimming again after years and even tried Zumba, visited Crawick Multiverse, Millport, Chatelherault Country Park, Skye, Wester Ross and Marseille, read new work at Woo’er with Words, went to the Workhorse photography exhibition, went to the pictures to see The War of Planet of the Apes, Girls Trip and Dunkirk, enjoyed a spa day with my bestie, went to book launches and festivals to be inspired by Bernard MacLaverty, Jenni Fagan, Russel McLean, Ciaran McMenamin, Keith Gray, Claire Fuller, Lisa McInerney, Roddy Doyle and Isla Dewar talking about their work, attended a fab performance of The Darling Monologues by Angela Jackson and the brilliant launch of the Fierce Women poetry anthology, got soaked on an excellent Glasgow Women’s Library heritage walk but stayed dry on their trip to the Museum Resources Centre, and was lucky to walk across the new Queensferry Crossing before it opened for traffic which was a “once in a lifetime experience”. That’s not a bad selection of activities to top up my well!

Lapping up the sunshine and beer in Marseille.

And although I’ve added only a feeble amount of words to the new novel, I have written some flash fiction, entered a short story competition and even tried writing poetry which is completely out of my comfort zone!

The main thing is though that after an intense spell of work and not enough play I’ve been busy in other ways. I’ve learnt and laughed a lot and that’s far more important to me than a word count.

How do you fill up your well?

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Buy Buy Baby: Helen MacKinven

Really chuffed with this review of Buy Buy Baby!

chapterinmylife: Scottish Crime Fiction Blogger

30007003It was my pleasure to read and review this book by Helen MacKinven; it is not my usual crime/psychological thriller type of read but it was one well worth stepping out of my comfort zone to delve into!

What the blurb says:

What price tag would you put on a baby?

Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing.

Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive Ebay habit and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son.

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in…

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Happy Book Birthday!

My wean is old year old today!

This time last July, my novel. Buy Buy Baby, was launched to an ever-supportive audience of family and friends in Falkirk. It was a brilliant night where my great pal and fellow author, Karen Campbell, set up the banter with a lively Q and A before I road-tested a couple of readings from the book.

At the end of the night, I headed home where corks were popped and I basked in the buzz of my latest novel being out in the world. The celebration was also fuelled by nervous energy but I’ve learned a lot since being a debut novelist and that gave me a reality check. For a start, writing a novel is an achievement to be proud of, but it’s not as if I’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I didn’t need to worry about the media tracking me down because I had a new book out.

But I didn’t ever expect fame and fortune from my writing (just as well!). What I did hope for was that readers would enjoy my second novel just as much as my debut. I’ve been lucky. Many folk have told me that they actually prefer Buy Buy Baby to Talk of the Toun. This was a huge relief as I’d wondered how it would compare as they’re very different stories and expectations might not be met if they were looking for more of the same.

The best bit about publishing another novel? I’ve managed to get out and about sharing extracts from Buy Buy Baby at events at all over Scotland. Have book, will travel! I’ve been to Waterstones branches in Stirling, Argyle St and Byres Road in Glasgow, Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, met the Bathgate Book Group, appeared at Berwick Book Festival, Kilsyth Library, Denny Library, Off the Page Book Festival, Booked! Cumbernauld Cabaret and I’ll be at the Ness Book Fest and Portobello Book Festival this October. That wean of my mine gets about!

Often at these events, I get asked, “What do you enjoy most about being an author?” It’s an easy one to answer! “Meeting readers and getting the chance to share my work”.

To mark my book’s birthday, I’m running a giveaway over on Goodreads for a signed copy. Hop over there to enter – good luck! But if you’re not feeling lucky and don’t want to take a chance, it’s only 99p for the month of July – snap up a book bargain for your summer reading!

I’ll raise a glass on 7th July (any excuse!) and hope that you read and enjoy Buy Buy Baby.

What’s the best birthday present you could ‘give’ my book? Share the love with a wee review (it only needs to be a few lines) on Amazon/Goodreads or tell your pals. Thanks, from me and the wean. Cheers!

 

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Thanks to Eddie McEleney for fab pics which captured the mood of the afternoon.

The hostess with the mostess! 😉

On Saturday, I was the guest host for [Untitled]’s monthly spoken word event in Falkirk.

There’s never any guarantee of how many readers will turn up to share their work so to cover the worst-case scenario of a lack of performers, I decided to dig out something to read. The last few times I’ve read at [Untitled], it’s been extracts from my novel, Buy Buy Baby (on promo at only 99p for this month!) but I felt I should try out something new.

I’m not ready yet to share any of my work in progress (which isn’t progressing much at all at the moment!) so I was struggling to think of a piece I could read that would standalone. It’s quite hard to find extracts from novels that make sense without setting the scene to explain the background of characters and the context of the piece. That’s where poets have it easier.

But for me, poetry isn’t easy. The one and only time I submitted a poem it was actually published. This instant success didn’t spur me on to write more and I’d never read out the poem in public. The poem was published in 2003 and I had a different surname, my previous married name, and a very different life. When I reread the poem, it was hard to recognise the person who wrote such a dark and melancholy poem. I felt exposed just reading it privately.

I also remembered that included in my WIP, the main character writes a poem to describe her relationship with her new friends. Again, the voice didn’t feel like mine. But I did have two poems to read if I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.

As it happened, there were eleven readers keen to share their work on Saturday and I relaxed in the knowledge that I wouldn’t need to air my poetry. But here’s the thing… several of the readers had never performed their work before and were understandably a wee bit nervous. In my role as host, I did my best to support them and encourage them to be bold and put themselves and their words out there. And yet, I realised I was a hypocrite who was avoiding reading my own work. On the spur of the moment, I decided (with grateful audience encouragement) to practise what I preached and I read both of my poems.

Genuinely, to my surprise, they seemed to go down well. Later, I even got a tweet from one of the readers who said, “@HelenMacKinven poetry was wonderful. Poignant and delicate. You should write more poetry!” That made my day and I was chuffed to bits although I think I’ll leave writing poetry to poets and stick to prose. But it felt good to push myself a wee bit and it gave me the boost that I needed to keep writing, in whatever genre…

When have you stepped out of your comfort zone? Do you enjoy sharing your work in public or is your writing private?

 

Buy Buy Baby By @HelenMacKinven @cranachanbooks #Guest Review J A Warnock

Great to have a new review of Buy Buy Baby!

Love Books Group

Buy Buy Baby By Helen MacKinven
Cranachan Publishing July 2016
Guest Review: J A Warnock 

The Review

If (like me) the thought of really getting inside a woman’s head fills you with abject horror, I suggest you stop reading now. There is absolutely nothing to see here; please move along. I have never before read a book that captures so well a woman’s contradictions, vulnerabilities, irationalities, sheer resourcefulness and force of will. At times the characters in Buy Buy Baby baffled me as much as many of my female friends and at points had me trying to shake some sense into them through the pages of my Kindle.

Speaking of Kindle, my review is of a relatively early Kindle draft which contained a couple of continuity blips which left me a little confused. Many thanks to the author for taking the time to answer my questions and for reasuring me…

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Reading, Writing and the World of Work

Last Wednesday, I spent the morning at Dalmarnock Primary School in the east end of Glasgow. This wasn’t my first visit to the school as I was there earlier this academic session to deliver training for the teachers in the Reflective Reading programme. But this time, I was there to meet the P7 pupils as part of their World of Work event.
I’d been invited along to chat to the pupils about my ‘job’ as an author. Like most authors, I don’t earn a living from my writing and do other jobs too so I don’t list my main occupation as ‘writer’. But for the purposes of suggesting a diverse range of options to the pupils I was very happy to represent writing as a career choice. I was also keen to take part in the event as Dalmarnock PS is a fabulous school which recently benefited from the Pupil Equity Fund to receive additional support, to help them close the poverty related attainment gap in their school.


As a writer, I feel passionately about challenging social class barriers and representing working class voices in fiction, particularly from a female point of view. When I was in P7, the only professional people I knew in person were my teachers, the doctor and the priest. I never ever dreamed of being an author, this was a job that didn’t seem possible for someone like me who lived in a council house.

I was an avid reader (thank you Falkirk libraries!) but despite my love of books filling my mind with stories, to picture myself as an author was beyond my imagination. To set this scenario in context, from the 18 pupils in my P7 class, I was the only one who went on to further education to train as a primary school teacher. One of the reasons I believe that influenced my career choice (and the fact I failed to get in to Art School!) was that it was one of the only professional jobs I had encountered in real life.

Willow the star attraction!

In the school hall, I met the excited pupils in groups of three and asked each one what they wanted to be when they grew up. Not surprisingly, the most popular answer from the boys was footballer. The top choice of the girls was beautician. I did my best to be a cheerleader for authors but my ‘stall’ had to compete with the fluffy ball of cuteness that was Willow on the Therapet stand.
I also took the chance to talk to the pupils about their favourite authors. David Walliams scored highly with his books Gangsta Granny and Ratburger mentioned often along with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. The importance of reading for pleasure is a key message when I deliver reflective reading training so it was great to hear the pupils talking positively about books.

 
“When children, particularly the poorest, have fallen behind in reading by 11, the impact can last for the rest of their lives. They are less likely to go on to secure good qualifications. Their chances of getting a good job and pulling themselves out of poverty are severely diminished.” Read on, Get on.

The P7s I met might not pursue writing as a career but it was a brilliant opportunity to share my love of books and reading with them. Here’s hoping that whatever job they end up doing, it’ll not be all work and no play, and that their downtime will involve enjoying a good book, especially one written by an author they once met at school!

Wearing Bimbo’s sunglasses featured on the cover of Talk of the Toun.

Having fun with a Buy Buy Baby bookmark.

 

Ready, Aim, and Fire at Your Target Reader!

We all have different tastes and not every book will appeal to every reader. So, when marketing your book, it’s crucial to identify the demographic of people who are most likely to show interest in your writing. That makes perfect sense.

But here’s the thing, it’s a true saying, never assume – it makes an ASS out of U and ME. This was at the forefront of my mind yesterday when I entered a room of OAPS at a sheltered housing complex. I had been invited to deliver a presentation, readings and Q and A for the Off the Page Book Festival organised by Stirling Libraries. My event was part of their outreach work taking the author to the readers, particularly if the readers are housebound. The age range represented was far higher than the characters in my novels. But I reminded myself that all of the women present had an understanding of the themes of motherhood explored in Buy Buy Baby. These were women who been there, done that.

And there was no need to worry that just because Talk of the Toun is set in 1985 and the main character is 17 that it wouldn’t appeal to them. They all remembered the 80s and the melodrama of their own teenage years. I had nothing to fear, the audience might not fit the marketing ideal of my target reader but they lapped up the nostalgia and banter like warm milk. The themes featured in both of my books are universal if you’ve ever loved and lost, no matter what the setting or era. In my writing, it’s the flawed characters that shine a light on human nature and that meant I had nods of acknowledgement throughout my readings.

During the Q and A, we discussed the stereotypes that sweet old ladies wouldn’t be the most obvious readers of gritty crime fiction. Two of the women are huge fans of the Bloody Scotland book festival and the more blood and guts make a better read for them! I am reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Parry at the moment and although it’s set in the 19th century, friendship and love are timeless themes.

We are all different, and yet on many levels, we are all the same.

Do you limit yourself to only reading one genre? Or do you have eclectic reading tastes?