Read Out Loud Challenge

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.

 

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Cover Reveal for Nailing Jess

As one half of Cranachan Publishing, I read the submissions we receive and this can provoke a mixed bag of emotions. More often than not, it’s a feeling of disappointment that the writer has failed to engage me and the synopsis hasn’t lived up to my expectations. But an email from debut writer Triona Scully arrived in our inbox and it immediately intrigued us. The novel was set in Withering, a fictional town in modern, matriarchal Britain and Triona described her manuscript as “a subversive take on the standard serial killer story. Andrea Dworkin meets Thomas Harris in this fast-paced, corpse-heavy tale of murder and misogyny”.

Opening the document, I was hooked! The voice of sexist D.C.I. Jane Wayne is one the likes of which I’ve never read in any other novel. She is tasked with catching the serial strangler dubbed ‘The Withering Wringer’ who is terrorising local teenage prostitutes and no boy selling sex is safe. The pressure is on Wayne, but she’s not the lead officer on the investigation. Demoted, she must take orders from a man and not just any man, an ugly one.

You can guess why Anne and I were keen to read more, meet Triona and agree to publishing the most unique book I’ve read in a long time. For such a special book as Nailing Jess, we needed a special cover. It wasn’t an easy process but Anne explains how eventually we all knew we’d hit on the perfect image.

From the designer’s perspective…

 

 

“An explosive story needs an explosive cover. It’s fair to say though, that our first cover concepts were perhaps a bit too shocking (a female Jesus, a woman being crucified, and other graphic images) which would perhaps repel readers, rather than intrigue them. Many other concepts were mocked up, with everything from cowboy boots, to gender signs, to men wearing high heels and bearded ladies. And yes, there might have been one or two featuring sperm… Finally, 72 images later, we hit upon the current cover – and we knew we had it. A crime style cover, with the suggestion of blood and the Barbie legs, hint that there’s not only a deeper dimension to this tale, but a bulging vein of humour throughout.”

 

From the writer’s perspective…

“It is a very tricky job, to convey the core of an idea in a few simple images. Luckily for me, that burden fell on Anne, and I think she has captured perfectly the dual narrative at play in ‘Nailing Jess’. It’s a crime novel, but it’s also a novel about gender. The doll’s legs on the blood-stained floor tells us both of those things. Having been privileged enough to be part of the process and allowed input, I found I was only really sure of what I didn’t want, images featuring sperm! Anne sent a lot of carefully considered suggestions my way,  and in some way every image worked!

‘I like that one!’ I’d say. ‘That really works!’ I’d think about the next one. But Anne was a lot harder to please than me, and I’m really glad of that. The final image was perfect. ‘It’s like you’re killing Barbie’, a friend has observed about the image, and that’s quite a compliment.”

What do you think? Do you love it as much as we do?

Guilt Trip!

‘How’s the writing going?’ 

It’s a common question to ask a writer. But what if you’re a writer who isn’t writing much, if anything at all? Kinda embarrassing, eh?

Here’s the truth…

downloadMy Work In Progress (WIP) isn’t doing much as far as the ‘P’ goes – I’ve only written two chapters so far. It’s no wonder then that when my fellow Cranachan author, Barbara Henderson tagged me in a Facebook thread for writers to share the opening sentence in the first few chapters of their WIP, I felt guilty. I’ve failed to sustain the momentum since I started writing my latest novel last year. I could trot out the usual excuses of life and work getting in the way but in reality, I need to stop faffing around and get stuck in!

But in the spirit of playing along, here goes… although bear in mind that as it’s a VERY rough first draft, these words might be ruthlessly chopped during the editing process.

Chapter 1 – September 2014

Saturday 19th – The Day After Scotland Decided

There was nothing else for it but to get pished last night.

Chapter 2 – October 2014

Tuesday 7th – The Naming Game

Eve had put me under pressure, I hadn’t actually promised to return with my great-granny’s badge and it wasn’t as if she knew where I lived or looked likely to do her messages in ASDA.

How’s your writing going?

Or if you’re a reader, does a novel set in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, in the year following the independence referendum sound of interest? It’s also going to weave in the story of the Siege of Leningrad too so it’ll be something very different for me to explore. Exciting and scary at the same time!

2016 – The Year of the Reading Slump

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For the last couple of years, I’ve kept a record of the books I’ve read (I know, I need to get out more!) and 2015’s total was 44. This wasn’t as many as I’d hoped to read but life got in the way. This year, the total is a pathetic 14!

But I have a very good excuse… life didn’t just get in the way, it changed, BIG time. The major change was that along with my business partner, Anne Glennie, we set up Cranachan Publishing and this made a massive impact on my reading habits.

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I started the year with a healthy tbr pile courtesy of Santa but sadly some of them remain on my beside table. No sooner had Cranachan opened to submissions our inbox was flooded with sample chapters and there was a steady flow throughout 2016 which equated to hunners of thousands of words being read by us both! From these initial submissions, we requested 12 full manuscripts and from these we signed 7 authors. This makes my lack of ‘pleasure’ reading in 2016 understandable but still disappointing as I’m constantly hearing of books I “must read”.

With limited time for my own choice of reading material, it’s meant that I’ve had to be even more ruthless and I’m far more likely to abandon a book these days after only a few pages (I used to operate a ‘you’ve got 50 pages to hook me’ rule). I also now find it hard to read without my editing ‘hat’ on and with a critical eye, the act of reading isn’t as relaxing.

fullsizerenBut the upside is that although I’ve given up on quite a few books, the ones I did finish were all very good apart from two * which disappointed and weren’t worth persevering with to the end. The others on the list were all excellent. Last year, my top pick was by Benjamin Myers and this year I read Beastings by him and it blew me away too. How to be Both by Ali Smith didn’t appeal but it was highly recommended and I’m so glad I listened to the praise as it was such a very clever book.

But hard though it was to choose, I settled on my favourite book of the year as My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. This short video explains why I picked it and reminded me that I was glad I had an appointment at the hairdresser the next day!

 

Here’s the full list (in order of reading) which is once again dominated by female writers (10/13 to save you counting!) although the gender bias is always unconscious.

  1. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  2. Armadillo by Pauline Lynch
  3. After You * by JoJo Moyes
  4. Viral by Helen Fitzgerald
  5. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  6. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
  7. The Jump by Doug Johnstone
  8. Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
  9. Beastings by Benjamin Myers
  10. Paulina and Fran * by Rachel B. Glaser
  11. The Siege by Helen Dunmore
  12. Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
  13. Docherty by William McIIvanney
  14. The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech

What was your favourite read of 2016? My new year’s resolution is to get my personal reading back on track and tackle my TBR pile that Santa will hopefully add to!

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Cover Reveal for Mary’s the Name

ross-sayers-bio-photoAnyone who is a regular reader of this blog, or follows me on social media, will know that I’m a huge fan of Roddy Doyle. Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha had a big influence on me as a writer and one of my favourite books is The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. I also recommend The Good Son by Paul McVeigh which is another book by an Irish writer with a child as a narrator. It’s easy to spot the theme!

I enjoy reading and writing black comedy which features settings I can identify with and focuses on endearing characters. So perhaps it’s not hard to understand that when I was wearing my Cranachan Publishing ‘hat’ I was very excited when we received a submission from a new Scottish writer, Ross Sayers. His debut novel, Mary’s the Name, is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Mary and her story stole my heart.

The blurb explains why I wanted Cranachan to publish Mary’s the Name.

“When me and Granpa watched James Bond films, he told me not to be scared because people didn’t have guns like that in Scotland. That must’ve been why the robbers used hammers.”

Orphaned Mary lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye.

Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him—and their money. Mary’s quirky outlook on life, loss, and her love of all things Elvis, will capture your heart.

Full of witty Scots banter, Mary’s the Name will have you reaching for the hankies, first with laughter, then with tears

Mary’s the Name is a very special book and needed a very special cover. My business partner, Anne Glennie, is the design guru and the pressure was on her to create a cover that lived up to the contents.  Anne describes the process behind the final cover…

marys-the-name-pitch-cover-002“The initial cover concepts all included child-like handwritten fonts for the title. As the narrator, Mary’s eight-year-old voice brings the text to life – it seemed to make sense to allude to this on the cover. However, despite several images and concepts, we failed to capture Mary’s energy. We then took a different tack, trying a more stylised cover. Mary loves music and plays her keyboard throughout as she hopes one day to become a concert pianist – so we mocked up several piano themed covers – and all agreed on a very simple, but striking, black and white cover depicting some piano keys. Then we left it to the side, to marinate.

But something wasn’t right. We hadn’t captured Mary’s essence – or any essence – the cover was too plain and too simple – it was definitely a case of style over substance. Covers need to intrigue or attract readers, to generate some sort of response. It was back to the drawing board – again! We reviewed the initial concepts with a fresh eye… and the image of Mary and her granpa by the edge of the sea under a stormy sky was the definite winner. It encapsulated the relationship which is central to the story, it provided a clear setting – and the storm clouds foreshadowed the events which would unfold. With a change of font and colour – we had a cover that we all loved. And the funny thing? We’d come full circle – choosing in the end the very image that we’d started with in the first place.”

mtn-ebook-cover-finalWe’re both chuffed to bits with the result and the main thing is, Ross is too! Here’s his response to the cover…

“We considered a lot of options, but I couldn’t be happier with the final result. I love the evocative landscape and the way the pink really leaps off the page.”

What do you think? Do you love it as much as we do?

Switch Off to be Turned On

bbb 92BBB COVER016 has been a helluva busy year for me so far. Not only did I go into business with my close friend, Anne Glennie, to start Cranachan Publishing, I also joined her educational company, The Learning Zoo, as a literary consultant delivering teacher training in the Reflective Reading programme. As if that wasn’t enough on my plate, I also launched my second novel, Buy Buy Baby.
At the promo events for Buy Buy Baby, a common question was, “What are you writing now?” The honest answer was, “Nothing”. My wee brain can only cope with so much and I didn’t have the time or energy to write and even my personal reading was suffering as I used my bedtime reading slot for submissions to Cranachan.

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Parked up and ‘locked’ away for uninterrupted writing.

A drastic measure was required and when I read that Moniack Mhor was running an untutored retreat, I knew this was the answer. So much of my day jobs require me to be ‘on’ and operating in performance mode and active on social media. It was time for me to flick the dial to ‘off’ if I was ever going to get back to my own creative writing.

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Silence + stunning scenery = bliss

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Moniack Mhor twice in the past so I knew it was a very special place. The difference this time was that it wasn’t a course, there would be no workshops and set routine.

The freedom was good in one sense but also left scope for frittering away the week. But I’m naturally self-disciplined and I was also very aware that to be able to indulge myself in a week of uninterrupted writing is a luxury that should be respected rather than abused. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity and so before I went, I set myself a goal of reconnecting with an idea that first came to me over three years ago.fullsizerender-002
Previously, I’d made notes, done a bit of research and written a measly five thousand words but I hadn’t gone near the folder on my laptop for two years. There are lots of excuses for neglecting the idea but the main one was fear. I had no idea how to tackle the project and if I could pull it off. My aim for my week’s retreat was to dust off the folder and see if it still ‘spoke’ to me. Would the initial idea be as interesting as I once believed? Could I plan a structure for the novel so that it no longer scared me? And was it possible to add to the five thousand words? At the very least, I knew I’d come home with a steer on whether or not to develop it further or start from scratch with something new.

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Taking time to think and look closer..

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Taking time to think and look closer..

My first day was spent rereading the five thousand words, editing them and trying to reengage with the ‘voice’ again.

The good news was that I knew I still wanted to work on the idea. Day two was all about sorting out my notes and creating a framework as I needed to make sure that I had a clear idea of why I was about to commit to writing this novel. What was I trying to say and how could I best achieve this? By day three, I had a rough (very!) draft outline for the whole novel, all I needed to do now, was to actually start writing it! By the end of day four, I had added six thousand new words, created character profiles and even written a poem (not something I ever do!) that might feature in the novel.
Not only did I get stuck in to my writing, I also went for a scenic walk each day, read a book from my mountainous tbr pile and met a group of lovely people including fellow Scottish writers Zoe Venditozzi and Shane Strachan.  I came home more than happy with what I’d managed to achieve at Moniack Mhor and feel fired up and raring to go. Of course, reality will soon kick in and the demands of day jobs and life in general but I’m determined to keep the momentum going…

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Loch Ness in the distance on my way home – refreshed and recharged.

 

Have you benefited from going on a writes’ retreat?

From Doon the Watter to Up in the Air

bbb 9BBB COVERWith the schools back now in Scotland, it feels like the end of the summer, especially as the weather is rotten, again. It’s been an interesting summer for me, dominated by the publication of Buy Buy Baby and my jaunts with family and friends.

In the course of a week, I went from visiting one island on the west coast of Scotland to another off the east coast of Spain.

The first trip to the Isle of Great Cumbrae only took 15 minutes in the ferry from Largs to reach but leaving the mainland behind creates a sense of escapism. And Millport, the island’s ‘capital’ has a nostalgic atmosphere of a time before package holidays abroad when many Scots took a trip ‘doon the watter’.

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Me on the ferry with my eldest son.

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Kames Bay directly opposite our holiday flat.

For years, my family has had the use of a holiday flat overlooking Kames Bay to enjoy a relaxing weekend.

But recently, neither of my adult sons have wanted to come with us so my hubby and I have only had the company of our two dogs (cheaper and easier to amuse!).  However, this year was different. My eldest son decided to come too along with his girlfriend who was a Millport ‘virgin’. Apart from a great chance to spend quality time with them with good food, drink and board games, I also had another agenda. This trip was a chance to take photos of the location which inspired Buy Buy Baby.

As in the previous visits, we climbed up to Farland Point for spectacular views across the Firth of Clyde but also to see where the seed was planted for my new novel. I don’t know any writers who aren’t naturally curious and I’m gold-standard in the nosey league.

Up at the viewpoint, I’d always stop to read the plaques on the memorial benches and was intrigued by the dedications. Six years ago, the tributes to loved ones sparked an idea for a story about a mother whose child has died and how she visits her ‘Angel’s Bench’ to reflect on their time together.

IMG_2970IMG_2922One idea led to another and I wrote ‘The Angel’s Bench’ about the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby. Since the first draft, the storyline has changed as well as the title, which is now Buy Buy Baby and was published on 7th July by Cranachan Publishing. I got a bit snap happy and although none of the actual dedications relate to the novel, it’s a place that was clearly special to many and I hope by including Millport in my novel it might inspire others to visit this beauty spot.

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Me with my youngest in Ibiza.

IMG_3104No sooner was I home from Millport than I was packing my suitcase to leave the next day for an another island. One that was much warmer and livelier but both islands are beautiful in their own distinct way.

This short and sweet trip was to see my youngest son who was ‘working’ there over the summer and it was a chance for us to have a wee adventure together. As I’d never been to Ibiza before, I loved discovering the history of Dalt Vila and walking along the beach at Playa de Bossa to indulge in people watching. Never one to miss a photo opportunity for marketing my book, I whipped out a copy of Buy Buy Baby, much to my son’s embarrassment (you’d think he’d be used to it by now!) and took pics of the book on location as the perfect beach or poolside read.

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Stunning sunset from my hotel balcony.

The key theme in Buy Buy Baby is motherhood and there aren’t many weeks that I manage to pack in so much quality time in a matter of days with my sons. The result? I came home with more west coast beach glass to add to my collection, sore feet from walking around Great Cumbrae, several hangovers, thrashed at Pictionary, suntanned and skint but happy to see my boys live up to the book’s dedication, “For my babies, Ross and Lewis, who have grown into men that make me proud to be their mum.”

In typical teacher mode, “What did you do this summer?”