Weegie Wednesday

a.aaa-student-life (1)I’m lucky to be able to work part-time which means that now that my youngest is at Strathclyde uni I’m able to fit in a trip to Glasgow each week to take him for a meal, bring him some treats and slip him some cash (an expensive outing!). Wednesday is usually the day we meet and it dawned on me that maybe I should go along to Weegie Wedneday while I was in Glasgow anyway. (For any non–Scottish readers – Weegie (n) A slang term for a person from Glasgow).

thisoneI’d ‘liked’ the Weegie Wednesday Facebook page ages ago but I’d never got round to attending any of their monthly literacy networking events. Weegie Wednesday provides an opportunity for writers, poets, publishers, booksellers, librarians, creative writing students or anyone else with an interest to get together socially to talk about books, writing and publishing.

When I read that the April event featured Liam Murray Bell and David Ross, it seemed like the perfect chance to finally get my act in gear and get myself to the venue at the Terrace Bar of the Centre of Contemporary Arts.

last-days-of-disco_December-with-quotes-resized-275x423I was particularly intrigued to hear more about David’s debut novel,  The Last Days of Disco . Apart from my publisher, only 5 other folk on the planet have read my novel pre-publication and one of them is Isabel Costello, who recommended I read David’s book as it reminded her of my own novel. I haven’t read the book yet but after listening to David, I can see how it could be compared to mine. His book is set in 1982, mine in 1985, his book is about adolescence, family, music, emerging sexuality and set in a small Scottish town – my book has the same themes and backdrop. Reviews of David’s book also mention the use of humour which is a key element of my writing too so I can’t wait to read David’s book and see if these similarities match up. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to talk to David in person at Weegie Wednesday but if his presentation was anything to go by I’m sure I’ll love his writing.

The other guest speaker was Liam Murray Bell. I attended the launch of Liam’s last book, The Busker, and it was interesting to hear him talk again, this time about how he juggles his day job as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling uni (where I did my MLitt) with his own writing.

After inputs from the guest speakers, the idea of Weegie Wednesday is to meet new folk. I’d arrived early for the event and immediately struck up a conversation with a friendly looking face, Catherine Hokin, whose debut historical novel, Blood and Roses, will be published in June. I was joined by two of my MLitt classmates, Angela and Paul, and we soon got chatting to others. I also crossed paths for the second time with Katie White, a screenwriter from Falkirk who has written an award winning film, Middle Man.

To be in the company of interesting friends, old and new, in a pub in Glasgow full of creative types isn’t a bad way to spend a Wednesday night is it?

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Santa’s Best Pressie

images (2)This time last year, I blogged that all I wanted for Christmas was a big enough ego to call myself a writer. I must’ve been a good girl as the big man in the red suit with the white beard delivered and I’ve come a long way in my writing journey.

At the start of 2012, I had never been published and felt too shy to use the title ‘writer’ to describe myself. I felt that I needed an external endorsement to validate the claim and I got it in the form of several of my flash fiction pieces and short stories being published online, in anthologies and short listed in competitions. It’s not easy putting your work out there and I still have to work at fighting the self-doubt about how I’ll be judged based upon my writing. But like everything else in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Probably the most exciting high for me was hearing my story read out by a professional actress at the National Galleries of Scotland, ‘Inspired? Get Writing!’ event (there’s still time to enter this year’s competition deadline is 18/1/13). To hear words I’d written getting a laugh from the audience is a buzz I won’t forget in a hurry.  And it reminds me of one milestone that I still have to achieve, and that’s to read out my work in public. Of course, that requires me to keep submitting work which at the moment is pretty non-existent. But I’m hoping that 2013 will get me back on track with an ongoing submission schedule.

Completing my masters definitely gave me a huge boost and incentive to prove that I didn’t waste time and money on a writing qualification. It also provided me with an opportunity to take the time to find out who I am as a writer and where I want to go with my writing. And of course that would still be to fulfil the dream of a traditional publishing deal.

imagesBut it hasn’t all been success after success in 2012. The biggest and most painful blow was learning that having an agent doesn’t guarantee a book deal. To come close but not close enough hurts like hell.  But in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” and the feedback I got from publishing editors will hopefully help to make my writing stronger.

543979_10200142443186502_1168765060_nAnother kick in the teeth was a complete knock-back from the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. I knew the odds against getting anywhere with it were high but I was still praying that I would be one of the lucky ones (congratulations to my fellow MLitt student, Angela Hughes who made the shortlist-yeh!).

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Chuffed to have my writing in Octavius, Causeway, Valve, New Voices Press & Paragram.

And of course throughout the year, there was a series of lesser “ouch” moments when submissions to literary journals and competition entries got nowhere.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m still on my agent’s books and I’ve got a MLitt to add to my name as well 6 pieces in a clutch of 5 mighty fine anthologies with my work featured.  So thank you Santa, I got what I asked for and more!

P.S. Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits CD would be much appreciated in case I need a reminder that, “What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter…” And I promise not to sing it out loud! Well, maybe just in my car when I’m driving alone…

Meet my Writing Mentor- Karen Campbell

This week, as a change from me blabbing on about my ‘writing’ experience, I thought it would be a welcome break to hear from a professional writer (who just happens to be a good pal too) and has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out!  This guest interview is a first for my blog (and possibly the last as I don’t have any other author friends to ask!) and I was able to grill chat with Karen Campbell when she stayed at my house after speaking at Falkirk library as part of their ‘Write Good Murders’ author visits.

Karen and I met 18 years ago when I worked at Glasgow City Council and I wanted to go job-share after having my first son. Karen was my other, some might say, better half. We made an odd-looking couple for the years we worked together with Karen being slim and 5 foot ten without heels and me, being anything but slim and a mere 5 foot nothing.  Despite the fact that we worked on different days, we became close friends and when Karen left the Council to become a full-time writer I followed her progress with envy  pride.  She is an award-winning Scottish writer of contemporary fiction and so far, her novels have been inspired by her time spent as a policewoman in Glasgow’s notorious ‘A’ division, but her fifth novel, due to be published in 2013, breaks away from the police series.

Karen has been my unofficial writing mentor for years now and (because I’m so generous) I wanted to share some of her words of wisdom with you.

Karen, you did the MLitt at Glasgow University; do you believe that creative writing can be taught? Or have I just wasted £3,400+?

When I started the course, I thought we’d get sessions on ‘how to write a novel’ and ‘ideas for plot’ and all that kind of stuff – and I remember feeling quite confused when that didn’t happen. We seemed to be learning by osmosis – listening to established writers talk about their craft, working in small peer-led editorial groups, and so on. Very quickly though, I realised the MLitt was more about giving you the space, inspiration and, crucially, confidence to find – and use – your voice; the voice you already had, but that needed coaxed out of you.  A special mention has to go to my tutor Prof Willy Maley, whose enthusiasm and attention to detail is brilliant. Many writers in Scotland have cause to thank him, I reckon.

What advice would you give other wannabe writers like me who are just starting out?     

Don’t try to second guess the ‘market’. Write without constraints and without hesitation. Let your mind take you anywhere it wants to go, write middle chunks of stories, do the end before the start, have characters talk to their dead grannies if you want. Just let it flow – you can tidy it up & shape it afterwards. To me, plot is less crucial than character. If you create convincing, interesting people, a story can arise simply from how they spark off each other – in any place or any situation.

Was your journey to publication easy peasy?

Absolutely not. I did a 2 year degree, finally secured an agent towards the end of that, then it was another eighteen months at least  – and many, many knockbacks – before I got a publisher. In the interim, I kept writing, kept sending short stories out to magazines etc, and got bits and pieces published that way. But it’s incredibly hard to keep the faith when you’re sending your ‘child’ out into the world, and folk keep sending it back, saying ‘your wean’s a bit ugly, isn’t it?’

Your new novel, ‘This is Where I am’ comes out next year and is a departure from your successful police series, why did you decide to tackle a new subject area? 

It’s not really a huge departure – I’m still writing about social issues, still writing about Glasgow – it’s just the people in it aren’t cops this time. I’d only ever planned to write 3 or 4 books about the police, and with each one of them, I’ve moved further away from my own experiences anyway. My new book is about asylum seekers & refugees – in particular, how removed the face you present to the world can be from the real ‘you’ inside. When I think about it, that’s exactly what the police books were about too.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m about two-thirds through a novel set in Argyll. It’s about standing stones and wind farms and has a cast of thousands, which I’ll need to whittle. But I’m letting them all have their say at the moment, before the cull begins.

Are you a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

Ah – as you well know, I was the brains behind our partnership (yeah, right, whatever you say!), so it may surprise you to learn that I’m definitely a fly-by-the-seat kind of girl when it comes to writing. You can plot backwards as well as forwards, filling in gaps or tightening up threads as your story emerges. Often, it’s only when you’re drawing to the end of a piece of writing that you truly ‘know’ what it’s about.

How many drafts do you do before you send a novel off to your agent/editor? 

I tend to edit as I go, then do a final sweep for continuity, pace and so on at the end. So it’s technically a second draft that I send, although it will have been revised as it’s being written.

What is your best writing tip?

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If you’re struggling, give yourself a word count to hit every day & make yourself sit down & do it – even if you’re just writing about the emotion you’re feeling at that moment. From that, you might only get a phrase or a piece of description, but you might get something brilliant.  Exercise your creative brain like you would any other muscle. I once got a whole short story out of the gungy feeling of picking meat off a chicken.

And your worst writing habit?

Oh, procrastination, like many writers. I can faff for Scotland.

Best moment in your writing career so far?

When an agent, then an editor, said they believed in my writing. These were professional people, who – unlike your mum – didn’t have to say they liked it. My new book is coming out with Bloomsbury, and that’s been a huge thrill too, to move to such a prestigious publisher. Just saying the name ‘Blooms-burry’ – I get pretty excited about that.

What book do you wish you’d written? 

Of books read recently-ish, I’d say ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell –brilliantly inventive structure.

Who is your favourite writer, alive and dead?

Loads – Jane Austen, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, AS Byatt, Virginia Woolf, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Janice Galloway.  I love writers who make language sing.

Do you have a writing routine?

Not really. I tend to write in the day rather than evening. At the moment, my best stuff seems to come in the morning, when I’m still a bit dopey. Don’t know what that says about me…

What book(s) are on your beside table right now?

‘The Gate at the Stairs’ by Lorrie Moore & ‘Black Mamba Boy’ by Nadifa Mohamed, which my lovely agent Jo sent me.

What’s the weirdest question you’ve been asked at a reading?

Well, the most recent wasn’t so much a question as a comment from a nice old gent who’d been nodding & staring intently at me for most of the reading. After, I was told he thanked the organisers & said he’d been ‘much taken’ – by my cleavage…Which, let’s face it, isn’t what it used to be.

Thanks Karen!

You can buy Karen’s books here and as Mrs Doyle would say to Father Ted,”Ah go ongo ongo ongo on……”