The Birds That Never Flew – Pure Dead Brilliant!

I’m chuffed to bits at the prospect of being published by ThunderPoint later in the year and it’s an honour to be in the company of one of their other writers, Margot McCuaig.

Margot with the great new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

Margot with the shiny new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

As well as being a novelist, the multi-talented Margot is highly successful at writing, producing and directing documentary films. She also freely shares her knowledge and skills with other women writers as a mentor in the fantastic WoMentoring Project. Before I signed my publishing contract, she graciously offered me advice and guidance and her thought provoking blog posts never fail to make me reflect on what it means to be a writer.

I couldn’t wait to read Margot’s novel, The Birds That Never Flew (TBTNF),  the contemporary Scottish dialect used throughout, the exploration of dark themes and the use of dry humour is the same style of writing I enjoy reading and writing. TBTNF was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2014 and has been relaunched at Waterstones in Argyle Street,  at an event hosted by the bestselling Scottish writer Sara Sheridan.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

It was great to hear Margot discuss her work and as a feminist, her desire to write about strong female characters. I was also interested in her use of Glasgwegian dialect which she feels, like me, is essential to make the dialogue sound authentic. The writer, Naomi  Fribsy wrote an excellent article on the issue of using regional and cultural accents in writing and I’d advise anyone interested to read this piece. (beware, Naomi recommends her favourite novels written in non-standard accents and this meant I added to my tbr pile again!)

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan is one of my favourite books and I can’t imagine it written in any other way and another book that I also rate highly is Push by Sapphire, a stunning credible voice.

When I was looking for a publisher, this was the response from one publisher, ironically based in Edinburgh.

“The Scottish dialect in your novel flows effortlessly and was appreciated and understood by the Scottish members of the team. But readers unfamiliar with Scottish dialect found the novel too demanding and challenging.
We suggest that you submit your novel to a publisher more focused on publishing Scottish novels.”

I LOVE books that make the characters sound real and don’t know how that would that be possible if the writer didn’t use their natural speech? Do you agree?

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Feminine Fiction

ByAbXFtIQAIGln0Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to see Anne Donovan, Carys Bray, Kirsty Logan and Kirsty Wark read at events. As a bookaholic, it comes as no surprise to learn that I’m a bit of a book festival fanatic and travel all over Scotland to hear writers talk about their work. My 2014 festival jaunts included trips to Dundee, Linlithgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Auchinleck.

Now that it’s November, I realise that I’ve no more festivals lined up and it made me wonder how many I’ve been to this year.

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A small selection of some of my favourite books by female writers.

The tally was interesting (to me anyway) because one fact that jumped out was that out of the 13 events, only 3 of them featured male writers. Of course, this isn’t a scientific study of data and it could simply be that more female writers appealed to me on this year’s festival programmes but it made me take a quick look at my bookshelves to see whether the female bias was reflected in my book choices.

Sure enough, my book event preferences did match a very obvious slant towards female writers, one that I’ve never been consciously aware of until now. Why do I favour female writers? Is it because the books they write contain subject matter which appeals to me more? I’m not a book snob and like to believe I have an open mind towards most fiction genres (except science fiction!) but I’m not a big reader of romances, chick lit or erotica which are often associated with women writers. My shelves aren’t full of candy pink book covers with images of stilettos and handbags. The types of books I tend to enjoy most are literary fiction  and memoir, and in particular, Scottish contemporary fiction, which explains why my favourite book events of the year were with Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay and Anne Donovan.

shes-a-writerAnd I then realised that most of the writers I follow on Twitter are female (I haven’t got the time or ability to collate the stats) and the blogs I read regularly are all written by females too! I’ve no idea why that is, maybe because generally speaking in social situations I enjoy the company of women more than men.

One of my favourite blogs is The Writes of Woman and Naomi Frisby explains the rationale behind her blog here. Naomi sums up far more eloquently than I ever could why the issues of supporting and promoting female writers need to addressed.

downloadI’m also hugely impressed by the work of the WoMentoring Project who offer mentors for female writers to highlight that, “In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.”

Do your reading habits reflect a gender imbalance? Are most of your favourite writers predominately male or female?

 

 

Confessions of a Bookaholic

I was flattered to be asked to write a guest post on any aspect of reading for Glasgow Book Groups blog and it made me realise how much time I spend reading. Here’s my post…

imagesMy name is Helen and I’m a bookaholic. There are worse addictions to have and it’s a fairly inexpensive and harmless enough obsession. But it is a problem. The reason being that I keep buying books when I’ve still got a humongous To Be Read (TBR) pile to get through and unless I lock myself away for the next year or so, I’ll never reduce the mountainous stack of books on my bedside table.

images (2)My book fetish has become even more out of control recently and I blame Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter (@HelenMacKinven) now for a year and a half and was wary of entering the murky waters of social media. But I dipped my painted toe in and once I realised that the water was not shark infested, I began to relax a bit and engage with other like-minded folk who loved books too. Many of those that I follow on Twitter write blogs on their own writing or review books. This provided me with a never-ending supply of book recommendations to feed my addiction.  I could get a quick fix within minutes on Twitter and before I could stop myself, I’d be hitting the ‘add to basket’ button on Amazon.

images (3)But what makes me chose one book over another? Obviously, taste is subjective and just because my best pal likes to read sci-fi, that doesn’t mean I’d ever consider anything with wee green men in it even although I originally come from Bonnybridge, allegedly the UFO capital of the world.  I’m not a fan of crime fiction either but I make an exception for Kate Atkinson’s Brodie series. And much as I also suffer from being a shoeaholic and have more handbags than I could ever need, I’m not interested in fluffy chick lit either. Then there’s the book every woman seemed to be talking about.  Listening to my pals, I feel as if I’m one of the few women on the planet who hasn’t read 50 Shades of Grey and I don’t ever intend to!

images (1)I’m also one of the few folk I know who doesn’t own a Kindle. I appreciate all the benefits but I still prefer a ‘tree’ book rather than an e-book and as an avid book festival goer, you can’t get a writer to sign a Kindle. A friend (who shall remain nameless to spare her blushes) swears by her Kindle as the best way to read erotica without anyone else knowing. It’s understandable as who would want to be seen on the train reading a bodice ripper? But I did fall victim to the old cliché of judging a book by its cover when I dismissed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes because of its girly pink cover only to later read it after numerous recommendations and found it to be a far deeper story-line than the artwork suggested.

And there are some books that I’ve been told I MUST read but haven’t enjoyed at all. I used to force myself to finish a book even when I hated it but no longer beat myself up and abandon it early on as life is too short. The most recent example was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. It may well be a classic in Scottish literature but it did nothing for me and I’m not ashamed to admit that my wee brain couldn’t cope with the deep and meaningful concepts.

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As a writer of contemporary Scottish fiction aimed at female readers, I tend to choose books in the genre I aspire to be published in so I read and enjoy writers such as Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, Anne Donovan, Laura Marney, Isla Dewar, Maggie O’Farrell to name but a few. Writers are often given the advice to write the book you’d want to read so that’s what I’m aiming to do. EL James need not worry about her status as queen of erotica!

I’m a bookaholic and proud of it. Are you? What makes you chose one book over another?

Writing and Dialect

This Saturday (yes, you read it correctly, a SATURDAY ) I attended an event at uni, ‘Justice and the Arts’. The key-note speaker was former MP, Chris Mullin who gave an absolutely fascinating account of his involvement in helping to quash the convictions of the Birmingham Six (it was well worth sacrificing my lie in to hear this man). In the afternoon, we split into groups and I met with other students and staff from Stirling and Strathclyde uni to discuss issues related to creative writing and publishing. There was a lively debate and the topic I was most interested in was how other writers address the concept of authenticity in their work. This got us talking about the use of local dialect…

My WIP is set in a fictional suburb of Glasgow and I have to decide how much dialect to use in my writing. This is tricky.  I ask myself the question (because I’m used to talking to myself), have I included too many or too few vernacular words and phrases? Do you stay true to your ‘voice’ and pepper the prose with words like glaikit and dreich or is it, in the words of Chewin’ the Fat’s lighthouse keepers, “Gonnae no dae that, jist gonne no” and leave it free of Parliamo Glasgow?

I loved the film Trainspotting but I wonder if many people out with Scotland found reading the novel hard going? But the characters of Renton, Franco, Spud and Sick Boy couldn’t have spoken any other way.

Another great example of the use of dialect is one of my favourite books, Anne Donovan’s , Buddha Da where not only is the dialogue in broad Glaswegian dialect, but so too is the narrative.

And one of the most recent examples of an international bestseller with strong use of the distinctive deep south dialect is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I couldn’t imagine reading it without phrases like, ‘Law’ for ‘Lord’ and AIbileen’s narration, “Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime” being included in the text (although Stockett has been heavily criticised for using dialect which trivialises stereotypical characters).  So what’s the best way to use dialect?

A fantastic performance  by Viola Davis as Aibileen in the superb film adaptation  of The Help

Surely you need dialect to create a sense of place? But will lots of dialect limit the audience? I suppose it’s a question of getting the balance right to make sure the writing isn’t bland and lifeless.  I think the use of signpost words and phrases to help ground the work is probably the best way to set the tone without making it too difficult for readers.

Does dialect help or hinder the reader? Is it a case of less is more with colloquial speech? Let me know if you think it’s a “pure dead brilliant” idea to use local slang words and phrases in fiction or would it leave readers crabbit and scunnered with it?