Great to have a new review of Buy Buy Baby!
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.
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!
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?
My fellow Cranachan author, Barbara Henderson got in touch recently to set me a challenge… I hoped that it wasn’t anything physical but luckily it was easy as it involved doing something I love – reading! But the challenge came with a few simple rules. If I accepted the challenge, the National Book Store, the biggest bookstore chain in the Philippines, has promised that for every 75 videos posted, they will help set up one library in a public school. And for 7,500 videos and more, 100 public schools will get library makeovers!
So, here’s me reading a taster from my latest novel, Buy Buy Baby.
If you want to have a go, (why wouldn’t you?) then here are the rules:
1) Post a video of yourself reading out an excerpt from a book on Facebook or Instagram. Read it with feeling or use props, whatever helps to bring the lines to life.
2) Use the hashtag #ReadOutLoudChallenge in your video post.
3) Don’t forget to tag @nbsalert and your 3 friends to do the challenge.
On Monday, I went along to the Low Museum in Hamilton to hear my friend and former MLitt classmate, author Ethyl Smith, talk about the 17th century period setting of her debut novel, Changed Times. It was a fascinating illustrated talk about the Covenanters and the important role they played in Scottish history.
The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness among people of all ages to discover what their local library offers and aims to encourage reading throughout communities across Scotland and to widen knowledge of local and national history.
Here’s an account of the event in Ethyl’s words…
“It wis organised by South Lanarkshire Leisure tae promote reading thru libraries. Seven titles wur chosen tae be available fur readers groups across the county and ‘Changed Times’ is ane o them. It’s sittin alang wi some famous titles so ah’m weel pleased tae hae crept in there aside them.
The theme for the promotion is ‘touch the past imagine the future’ an ah wis asked tae speak aboot the past …. Me bein auld an ma book bein aboot a time 300 hunner years ago.
It wis held in the Assembly Room which is awfy big an posh. Ah felt lik a fish oot o watter in sic grand surroondins.
When ah arrived thur wis a big foto shoot which wis a strange experience fur somebody as hates bein snapped then folk stertit comin in … An they kept comin till the place wis fu. Ah began tae wunner if ah wis in the wrang place but naw they’d come tae hear aboot the Covenanters.
Hert in ma mooth ah began an they aw listened, an luked at ma slides, an laughed in the richt bits. .. Believe it or no thur is humour in that time. Richt enough wi some o it if ye didna laugh ye’d greet.
A yapped on fur an hoor an hauf an maist o ma audience wur still awake at the end which wis a relief.
They said they’d learnt a lot aboot the time, asked questions, wur amazed an saddened by much o it, said thur wis a lot tae think aboot then gied me a big clap.
SO sharin information aboot oor heritage wis worthwhile …. folk dae want tae ken.On this occasion we wur sittin quite close tae the site o Hamilton Palace which hud close connections wi that time in history.
Anither thing the Vice President o the Covenanting Memorial Association turned up. He wis at at ma last event so he’s a richt glutton fur punishment. Wur still speakin so it cudna hae been that bad an tae hae that kinda support is really a guid feelin.”
Library users can also enter a competition to win a £50 book token by submitting a book review, either to their local library or on Twitter using the hashtag #ReadThePast17 What’s not to like?
And if you get a chance to read Ethyl’s book or hear her speak at an event you’re in for a treat!
I was recently asked in a Q and A, “What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?” My answer was, “Without a doubt, it’s meeting readers. For someone to tell me that they’ve read and enjoyed my books is very satisfying and makes all the time and effort worthwhile. I also get a huge buzz from seeing my book on display in a bookshop or library. When I was a student, I worked in a library and I would never have believed that one day my book would be on a shelf. It’s a cliché but it’s truly a dream come true.”
That’s why being asked to host the local World Book Night (WBN) for Falkirk Libraries meant so much to me. There I was, back in Denny Library, where I once stood behind the counter issuing books to readers but this time I was the author!
The stunning new library is on the same site and it’s now the centrepiece of the redevelopment of the town centre.
I’ve previously blogged about my passion for libraries and I’ve always been very vocal on social media in my belief that libraries are the heartbeat of a community and are essential as dream factories.
Books on the shelves of a library are full of people I’ve yet to meet, places I’ve yet to visit and adventures I’ve yet to have and my world would have been far smaller without access to my local library as a child. Growing up with weekly visits to Bonnybridge Library made me an avid reader and this love of words created the desire to become an author.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the written word than to hold a spoken word event and it was a privilege to spend Saturday afternoon (WBN falls on a Sunday this year so our event was a wee bit early) with poets and authors who came to share their work with the local community.
There were superb readings from debut novelist, Ross Sayers who read extracts from Mary’s the Name, Emma Mooney read from her novels, A Beautiful Game and Wings to Fly, Charlie Clark read from his debut novel, Empty Dark, Moira Martin and Anne Dromgoole from Denny Writers read their short stories, and we heard powerful poetry from Lesley Traynor, Carol Harley, Maggie Laidlaw and Janet Crawford.
It doesn’t need to be WBN to have a gathering of performers and it would be great to see libraries across Scotland hosting regular spoken word events. It might be another way of making sure a library remains the beating heart of a community because the worry is, if you don’t use it, you lose it!
I’m delighted to host a piece from a fellow Scottish writer, David Ross, whose latest novel, The Man Who Loved Islands is out now. This is David’s third published novel and I was intrigued to learn about the background to his books.
The Man Who Loved Islands marks the end (perhaps) of a Trilogy of stories spanning from 1982 right up to the present day. The three books are all fundamentally about ordinary people chasing their dreams, sometimes legitimately and sometimes not. In 1982 – when The Last Days of Disco was set – I was about to turn eighteen. I experienced a mix of emotions that are hopefully represented by the two principal characters in that book (Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller). Those remembered emotions are the catalyst for my books.
During the writing process, it was essential for me to reconnect with the times, the vibes and the memories to stage the plots authentically in a way that the reader could identify with. This isn’t just about pure nostalgia for the sake of it; it’s about creating a believable context where the reader can empathise with the characters, by having some personal perspective on the factors that are shaping their stories.
Music places a major part in that process for me, and I’ve written at length previously about the impact that it has on my writing. For this piece, I thought I’d share where the idea for The Man Who Loved Islands came from.
When I was a around six years old, there were three television programmes I was obsessed with.
The first was a truly bizarre American programme called ‘H.R Pufnstuf’. My entrepreneurial father had swapped our budgie and its cage for a loan of a colour TV to watch the 1970 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy. Such an experience was virtually unheard of in early 70s Glasgow, and in any case, he hated the bird. An opportunity to get rid of it as part of a bizarre pre-Bosman style transfer deal was too good to miss. It was called Joey – the budgie, not the telly – and his failed attempts to get it to talk were the justification for its permanent ‘early bath’. I missed Joey; well for about the first five minutes of a match apparently being played in some footballing technicolor Oz.
But the real bonus, beyond that unforgettable game, was in subsequently watching Mayor H.R.Pufnstuf and the other residents of Living Island try to help young Jimmy (played by English child actor Jack Wild) who had been shipwrecked and led to their remote island, escape the clutches of Witchiepoo. She wants to steal Jimmy’s talking flute (yes, you read that correctly…) to add to her collection of magical objects.
Now ‘H.R.Pufnstuf’ has come under fire for claims that it contained hidden recreational drug references. For example, H.R. was thought to be an abbreviation for ‘hand rolled’, while ‘Pufnstuf’ was inexplicably thought to mean ‘Puffing Stuff.’
I ask you…is there no innocence left? Don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself:
The second was black and white re-runs of ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. This was a French children’s programme based on the Daniel Defoe novel. It was horrendously dubbed but, for me, it was compulsive viewing in the mid-70s. It had memorable theme music and the opening titles are as familiar to me now as they were then. Perhaps you recall it too:
Both programmes are, in different ways, about solitude and the complex and contradictory nature of that; the loneliness and the opportunity that it fosters. In The Man Who Loved Islands, Gary Cassidy craves this solitude but for reasons that he doesn’t, or cant, fully understand. The book is essentially about regrets and fears and the irrational logic that solitude must surely be the only answer. But as Joe Strummer once said: ‘Without people, you’re nothing.’ That, ultimately, is the book’s central message.
The third was a series of Laurel & Hardy films, and especially, ‘The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case’ which ran at the minors in the local Cinema when I was young. The Laurel & Hardy films were (are) timeless and they too represent the naïve, but ultimately fruitless ambition displayed by Bobby and Joey who are also fans as they set out after their goals. In The Man Who Loved Islands, the films also play a part in reminding them of the depth of their friendship when in later life, that seems irreparably broken.
The theme tune of Robinson Crusoe certainly took me back! And the themes of all three books are ones which I’m sure will strike a chord (sorry, couldn’t resist the poor pun!) with many other readers too. Thanks to David for this interesting guest post and all the very best with your new novel.