Playing a Part in Book Week Scotland

I’m a reader first, writer second.

As such, I’m a huge fan of Book Week Scotland, organised by the Scottish Book Trust as a week-long celebration of books and reading that takes place every November. In previous years, I’ve attended events and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to hear some of my favourite writers talking about their books. So to be involved with the programme as a writer this year is for me nothing short of brilliant!

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Sharing tales of being an Avon lady in the 80s.

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Blast from the past!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had two Book Week Scotland events in my diary. The first one was at my local library in Kilsyth. I’ve been to loads of author talks and the usual format is readings and a Q & A. I decided to try something a wee bit different for my events. My day job is to train teachers and for this I use PowerPoint slides to convey my message, this is my comfort zone and as a visual learner myself I like images to help illustrate an idea. For my events I used PowerPoint to provide a pictorial backdrop to my talk with images of my writing ‘journey’ and pictures of the setting of Talk of the Toun. I also brought along 80s memorabilia to prompt nostalgia for the era or introduce nippers to the joys of Jelly shoes.

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Book banter with Alan Bissett.

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Impressed that the library supplied my ‘rider’ of Irn Bru to prevent a diva meltdown. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other Book Week Scotland event was a double-bill with my fellow Falkirk writer, Alan Bissett and we both read and talked about Alight Here, the anthology of writing related to Falkirk. The theme of my story is identity and what makes you feel like a ‘bairn’, someone born and bred in the area., with my story, Today’s Special at the York Café’.

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Cathy very graciously asked me to sign her copy of Talk of the Toun.

Tblue-trees_0he finale of the week for me was a trip to Wester Hailes Library in Edinburgh to hear Cathy Rentzenbrink talk about her memoir, A Last Act of Love.  On Twitter, loads of folk were raving about this moving account of Cathy’s family coming to terms with a horrific accident involving her younger brother Matty and its heartbreaking aftermath. It didn’t sound like a cheery read and I wasn’t sure I fancied reading it but I’m so glad I wasn’t put off as it’s most definitely not a misery memoir.

Despite the dire situation the family finds themselves in, there’s still space for gentle humour and most of all brutal honesty which makes it a book worth reading to celebrate family love. Hearing Cathy talk about her book and love of reading was inspirational. I gifted a copy of Talk of the Toun to Cathy and it would be a dream come true to think that she might enjoy it as much as I loved her book.

Did you attend any Book Week Scotland events?  If you did, who did you see?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing my writing has been a MASSIVE privilege and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to meet readers and be in a library as a reader AND a writer.

 

 

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Alight Here: An Anthology of Falkirk Writing

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The iconic Falkirk landmark which inspired my short story.

In January, I went along to a writing workshop led by Alan Bissett which was organised to stimulate ideas on what it felt to be a bairn (the term for anyone from Falkirk). The group were encouraged to submit their piece to be considered for inclusion in an anthology which Alan was to edit.

There’s no doubt about it, out of the many anthologies I’ve submitted to over the years this one meant the most to me and I was chuffed to bits to learn that my short story, ‘Today’s Special at the York Cafe‘ was to be featured in the book, ‘Alight Here:An Anthology of Falkirk Writing.’

alight-hereThe official blurb states that, “this book celebrates the work of local professional and amateur writers from the Falkirk area. When we think of Scottish literature we think first of the urban grit which came from Edinburgh and Glasgow or the rural poetry of the Highlands and Islands. No-one thinks of Falkirk. 

The collection features established writers from the area such as Aidan Moffat, the lyrical genius behind the band Arab Strap; Gordon Legge, who was key to the ‘Rebel Inc’ movement of the 1990s; Janet Paisley, one of Scotland’s leading Scots language voices; and Brian McCabe, arguably one of Scotland’s most accomplished short-story writers. Alongside them are a host of new and young talents, as well as unseen poetry unearthed from Falkirk Archives. Together, these voices create a compelling picture of Falkirk.”

photoThe launch was a great night with readings from contributors Bethany Ruth Anderson, Paul Cowan and local literary legend, Janet Paisley. It was exciting to see my words in print and I feel honoured to have my writing published alongside the talents of Samuel Best, Peter Callaghan, Karyn Dougan, Lorna Fraser, Matt Hamilton, Brian McNeill, Gary Oberg, Constance Saim-Hunter, Lindsay Scott, Dickson Telfer, Paul Tonner, David Victor and Claire Wilson.

11181883_798627483566550_3105361756786451391_nThe event also included a preview of Alan’s excellent new one man show, ‘What the F**kirk’ which will be touring the Falkirk area over the next couple of weeks. He had the audience in stitches and I’m looking forward to seeing it again on Friday night with my two best friends and fellow bairns.

Last night was a proud moment for me as a bairn! Does your local area have a strong identity represented by the arts?

From the Mouth of Bairns

download (7)If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I’m very proud of the fact that I was born in Falkirk which means I can call myself a ‘bairn’. The term ‘bairns’ is used for the town’s football team supporters and folk who come from Falkirk. Bairn is also the Scottish term for young children, though no-one can prove conclusively why Falkirk’s citizens are called ‘bairns’.

download (4)Like so many historical conundrums there’s no conclusive answer. On the basis of scraps of evidence, it seems that the term was commonplace throughout the 19th century and there was said then to be an ‘old’ saying – ‘You’re like the bairns o’ Fa’kirk, you’ll end ere you mend’ so it probably takes the term back to the 18th century at least. The term ‘bairns’ also features on the Coat of Arms of the Burgh of Falkirk with the motto, “Better Meddle wi’ the De’il than the Bairns o’ Fa’kirk” and the motto, “Touch ane, touch a’.”

creative-place-winner-2014But does describing yourself as a Falkirk ‘bairn’ give you a sense of identity? This was one of the questions posed at a writing workshop led by writer Alan Bissett, originally from Hallglen in Falkirk. The workshop was organised to stimulate ideas for a book celebrating the work of local professional and amateur writers from the Falkirk area. It is being produced by Falkirk Community Trust (FCT) as one of their projects following Falkirk being named as a Creative Place Award Winner for 2014.

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Elizabeth Blackadder is arguably one of the UK’s favourite living artists.

When the workshop group discussed how they would describe Falkirk to a foreigner, a common theme that cropped up was the industrial heritage of the town. Although the Kelpies have given Falkirk an instant arts boost, the town is not renowned as being a hub of creativity, despite the fact that famous artists such as Elizabeth Blackadder are ‘bairns’. Although, the situation is improving with events such as Untitled’s monthly spoken word gatherings offering writers a much-needed outlet for their work.

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Alan Bissett’s books have helped put Falkirk on the literary map.

As they say, things can only get better and FCT plan to use the award to work with a number of partners to support a cultural project called ‘Acts of Discovery’, aimed at offering audiences a fresh look at the area and its cultural offering.

Part of the project will be a book edited by Alan with the aim of providing a snapshot of Falkirk with stories and poems that are either based in or inspired by the area.

 

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There’s more to Falkirk than the Falkirk Wheel!

To fire up our thoughts of Falkirk, Alan asked us to think of a place unique to Falkirk. We then had to think of 2 things, 1 smell and 1 sound related to that place. After that we had to choose 2 characters and write a scene involving some sort of conflict. There are many places unique to Falkirk such as Callendar House and park, the Steeple, Brockville stadium etc. but the one that sprang to my mind was the York café in the High Street.

 

download (5)I scribbled down a scenario inspired by childhood visits to the York café (most of my happy memories involve food!) and we then shared our efforts. It was really interesting to hear the diverse range of settings and the workshop certainly made us all reflect on a sense of belonging.

An added bonus for me was bumping into a long-lost friend, Marianne Dryburgh, who in the 12 years or so since our paths have crossed has also completed an MLitt in Creative Writing so we had lots to talk about and catch up on (over lunch in the café of course).

Does your hometown influence your writing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Good Things Come To An End…

snoopy-charlie-brown-end-of-summerIt’s back to school for me this week as one of my day jobs involves teacher training. It’s hard to believe that the summer break is over and I’ve not worked for six weeks. But I’ve not been idle!

Challenges like NaNoWriMo where writers attempt to rack up 50k words during the month of November and with many writers setting themselves a daily target of 1000 words, this would suggest that as I was ‘free’ for most of the summer, I could easily have written half a novel. So what was my final total? A big fat zero.

I made no effort to write anything new as I was too busy enjoying summer, just like my Twitter pal, Catherine Noble who blogged recently that she too felt the need to relax and get “oot and aboot”.

downloadThe life of a ‘tortured artist’ is not for me. This summer, the weather has been great and I wasn’t going to miss it stuck inside tapping away on my laptop. Once the darker nights return, I’ll be happy to stay cosy and hide away with my next writing project. But since the end of June, I’ve been packing as much into my break as possible.

I’ve caught up with friends and visited lots of interesting places. I went to see family in Campbeltown and walked along the beautiful beach at Westport, wandered round the Himalayan-styled woodland Crarae Garden, explored the maze of underground passages at Gilmerton Cove, celebrated my 7th wedding anniversary with a stay at Melville Castle, took in the magic of Jupiter Artland, watched a demo of an original 18th century loom in action at Weaver’s Cottage, learnt more about the amazing Scottish explorer at the David Livingstone Centre, was entertained by Phill Jupitus at Funny in Falkirk, heard local writers such as Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett perform at the For Falkirk’s Sake event, listened to artist John Shankie talk about his work, attended the Edinburgh International Book Festival and felt inspired by Nathan Filer and Stewart Foster,  popped into the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and had no idea how to interpret the sculptural installations, and reserved two pygmy goats who’ll join our family soon…

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Max & Jess paddling at Westport beach.

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A tranquil spot at Crarae Garden.

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A mysterious series of hand carved passageways and chambers that lie below ground.

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Our romantic anniversary hotel bedroom.

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One of the surreal ‘Weeping Girls’ figures among the trees at Jupiter Artland.

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Total respect for such skill!

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Even being mauled by a lion didn’t stop David Livingstone continuing with his travels – he definitely wasn’t a big fearty!

More of a storyteller than a comedian.

More of a storyteller than a comedian.

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Great to have a showcase for local talent

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So glad the artist was there to try to explain the ‘art’ of clothes inside a freezer!

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Nathan Filer reads from ‘The Shock of the Fall’ – one of my favourite books so far of 2014.

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Sheets of knotted polythene as ‘art’ were literally over my head!

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Getting to know Victor, one of the pygmy goats we chose.

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Who’d guess that inspiration could be found inside?

It’s been an interesting summer. I feel it’s really important to do stuff and see things to help feed my creativity. Who knows what will eventually creep into my writing later? But I haven’t completely neglected my writing. I may not have written a new story or started another novel but I’ve spent lots of time thinking through my next project.  Possible beginnings and a ‘voice’ have been floating around my mind and I feel almost ready to start, especially after the latest idea involved a trip ten miles down the road to deepest darkest Airdrie for invaluable research.

I’ve also spent a bit of time sourcing potential literary agents and publishers and live in hope of finding someone to represent me and publish my last novel…

downloadThe other writing related highlight of the summer was an invitation to be filmed reading a short story on the theme of sectarianism which I wrote a while back after attending the Mixing the Colours workshop run by Glasgow Women’s Library.  I was a bit nervous about being filmed (especially at the thought of the camera adding pounds – something I can’t afford!) but Rebecca Jones from GWL made me feel at ease and said all the right things to boost my confidence. The film may be used as part of a conference being organised by Rachel Thain-Gray next March. It’s a fantastic initiative and one which I’m very proud to play a teeny-weeny part.

Has your summer been productive? Do you feel you need gaps between projects?

 

 

 

The Mither Tongue

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Ethyl and I graduating with our MLitt in Creative Writing from Stirling University.

Last week I met up with ma good pal and former MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith tae talk books and writing. We spent 5+ hours blethering without drawing breath and one of the many topics we covered was writing in  Scots.

downloadRecently, the bestselling children’s book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson was translated into Scots by James Robertson and this has been followed by The Gruffalo’s Wean, a Scots version of The Gruffalo’s Child.  I think this is a brilliant move tae make sure Scottish children are aware of their mither tongue.

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This blog is not about politics but it’s impossible tae ignore the fact that in less than a year, I will be voting in the Independence Referendum. And how will I vote? I’ll vote with ma heart, not ma heid. I don’t know a lot about the economic arguments for and against independence but I do know that I’ve always considered myself as Scottish, not British.

I think this strong sense of Scottish identity and pride in ma heritage might explain ma fascination with the language of ma birth. I love Scots words like glaikit, dreich and scunner.

This wee clip of Nicola Swankie’s 50 Favourite Weird Scottish Words made me smile. How many do you use or recognise?

But although when I’m writing I like tae include Scots words in dialogue, tae write the entire text in Scots requires expertise and skill. Ethyl has written many pieces in old Scots and I’ve asked her tae share her experience.

Can you tell us why you enjoy writing in your mither tongue?

It seems more natural way to express my thoughts. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents who spoke broad Scots… so it’s like being grounded I guess.

Do you find it harder tae write in Scots?

Naw. Weel if ah’m strecht wi ye it’s the spellin. Scots is mair in the lug if ye git ma drift. Ay is ‘yes’. Aye with the extra e maks ‘always.’ You need to listen to hear the difference.images (2)

What advice would you give writers who’d like tae try writing in Scots?

First listen. The rhythm and cadence is different, even the word order. Also get yourself a good dictionary Scots-English & vice versa.

Whose writing would you recommend as a good example of writing in Scots?

John Galt … old fashioned but great writing. Alan Bissett for emphasis on modern slang. James Robertson is very respectful of its useage.

Here’s a sample of Ethyl’s writing and you can see why I’ve got so much respect for her talent as a writer.

Nae Way Back

Whit fur did ah dae this? Whit makt me think it wud be aw richt? Aifter aw ah’m nae glaikit. Weel nae fur ordnar. Wan thing fur shair it’s the straicht an narra frae noo on. An nae argiein.

Tae tell the truth ah did think ah wis raither smairt. Aifter aw ah din it aw masel. Me an ma big ego. Naw. Mair lik me an ma big heid.

If the Yoge maister hudna sayed ah wis his best pupil, mibbe ah wudna hae mindit doddlin alang lik the rest o the cless. Ye see, maist o thaim canna levitate at aw. But therr ah wis, clear o the flair, an floatin lik a dream; an ah kent they wur jeelous whan they saw me dain it week aifter week, wi nae wauchle.

Mind ye the Yoge did say it wis jist fur cless. Whaur he cud kep an eye lik.

Ah shuda taen tent, an no allooed masel tae git cairrit awa wi ma ain consait. Bit naw. Ah jist hud tae gang that bit faurer, an try a fu, oot o boddy expairience, on ma ain.

An it wisna sair. An extra hauf hoor’s meditation, twa extra mantras, an ah wis awa as nice as ye like, an heidin up here tae the ceilin.

Problem is ah’m here yit. An aw the time ah’m seein masel. At least ah can see ma boddy, doon therr streetched oot on the bed, as if ah’m sleepin. Bit ah’m nae. Ah’m up here, fashin aboot gittin doon agane, fur ah forgot tae luk thon bit up in ma manual, an it’s ower late noo. Talk aboot bein wice aifter the event. An talk aboot bein feart. Ay … ah shud … ah shud nivver hae sterted this. 

Thanks Ethyl, that was a braw wee tale.

Have you tried writing in Scots or any other native language? Do you enjoy reading work in Scots? Is there a favourite writer you admire who writes in Scots?

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Writing About My Favourite Place in Scotland

The Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland are inviting folk to write about their favourite place in Scotland. When I first read about the project, I was immediately fired up to write something.  I love my country so there are tons of places I could write about, and then I stalled.

“Scream if you wanna go faster!”

I have happy memories dotted about all over Scotland- family days out to the shows at Burntisland, working and partying in Glasgow, playing in the woods across from my gran’s house, the list is endless. But having to choose just one favourite place was much more difficult. It would be like asking me to choose which one of my sons was my favourite. So when I saw the opportunity to sign up for a free writing workshop run by top writers like Bernard MacLaverty and Alan Bissett, it was a no-brainer, I jumped at the chance.

The workshop I attended was held at the East Kilbride Arts Centre and the tutor was one of my all-time favourite Scottish writers-Janice Galloway. I’ve heard Janice talk in her inimitable larger-than-life style at book festivals before so I knew what to expect. Up close and personal, she filled the meeting room with her presence, leaving myself and the eight other participants hanging on her every word.

Janice started by asking the question, “Why do we want to write about places?”  The group’s answers included history/nostalgia, to admire/celebrate a place and to record visiting a place but basically all of the answers had a common theme- places are a crucial part of your life story, whether that be a negative or positive experience.

We then looked at examples of famous pieces of writing to analyse the art of writing about a place. We looked at which ones drew us in and examined how the writer achieved this effect.  Janice had brought along a range of random postcards and images of places and she used these to prompt our reactions to the different places.

The final part of the session was to make a list of three places in Scotland that we’d actually been to and love- not whole cities but specific places like a café, a park etc. We then had to pick one of the places, picture it and make quick notes on,

Who is there? One or more people? Just you?

What/who is missing?

What thing impresses you most of all and why?

One sight, one sound, one touch, one taste, one smell.

What does it make you imagine/bring back/remember?

Unfortunately, with only one hour, the workshop was over all too soon but Janice encouraged us to go home and take 20 minutes to write about our favourite place. She also reminded us of the Ernest Hemmingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit”, to avoid us getting too hung up about our initial attempt. We then had to read it again over the next few days and MAKE IT BETTER! This would mean cutting out non-essentials, adding clarity and making it vivid to appeal to the reader’s senses. But the most important thing was to use your own ‘voice’ so that the writing was not just about the place but how YOU see it in YOUR mind and in YOUR words.

I’ve tried to follow Janice’s advice and I’ve uploaded my piece on to the Scottish Book Trust website. My wee story is about my husband proposing to me and you can read, ‘Wallace’s Monument and My Very Own Braveheart’ here along with other folk’s submissions.

What’s your favourite place in Scotland? Once you’ve decided, get writing! You can book onto a ‘My favourite place writing workshop’ here if like me, you could do with some inspirational tips.

The closing date to submit your writing is 31st August .You can submit your story, poem, song, letter, diary entry or sketch  here, so go on, what are you waiting for?