Around the World in 3 Days

3af9fde0I travelled east three times last week (by train not in a hot air balloon!) to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The theme for this year’s programme was ‘Around the World’ to showcase some of the most interesting authors from across the planet.

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Peter and Karen in conversation with EIBF’s director Nick Barley.

The first event I attended had the title, ‘Can We Ever Escape From Ourselves?’ and featured Karen Campbell and Peter Stamm. This combo initially seemed an odd match but it soon became apparent that both authors shared a common theme in their latest novels. You can read my review of Karen’s book, Rise, here but to give you a wee taster it’s set in Argyllshire where several characters cross paths who are all on the run from past experiences that haunt them.download

Peter’s book, All Days Are Night, is set in Switzerland and is an exploration of how a high-profile woman struggles to make sense of her life after a horrific crash which results in requiring facial reconstruction. A person’s sense of identity and the search for inner peace was discussed by both writers and the thought-provoking events raised more questions than answers leaving the audience hanging on every word.

imagesI bobbed back to Edinburgh with hubby two days later to hear another engaging author delving into issues with an international flavour. This time it was the turn of acclaimed actress Meera Syal who spoke to a packed audience about her new novel, The House of Hidden Mothers in the ‘Dreams of Motherhood and Freedom‘ event.

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Lee Randall chaired Meera’s event.

I read the book recently and it was an eye-opener as I’d no idea that India was the cheapest place for ‘fertility tourism’ as poverty makes Indian women happy to bear children for infertile western couples who find the costs lower and the legislation less stringent. The contrast between the affluent main character in London (known as a Non Resident Indian) and the deprived surrogate mother in rural India was fascinating and promoted questions from the audience over the ethics of this ‘rent a womb’ business and feminist issues related to the changing role of women in different cultures.

My third trip east was to meet some of my fellow ThunderPoint authors. This was a great chance for me to build new friendships and to learn from the experience of those who’ve already trodden the publication path. It was exciting too to see their books on display in the festival’s book store and I hope that this time next year my novel will join theirs on the shelves. All three of the ThunderPoint writers have set their books in Scotland (although Margot’s characters also hop across the water to Rathlin Island in Ireland) so if you’re interested in quality Scottish fiction I’d highly recommend you check out the work of Margot McCuaig, Jackie McLean and Helen Forbes (who has the same name as my beloved gran – another born storyteller!).

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L to R – Me with Jackie McLean, Margot McCuaig, Helen Forbes

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James Kelman – Voice over Narrative

download (1)Readers of the blog will know that I’m a frequent visitor to book festivals all over Scotland. This summer, I went to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to see one of my literary heroes Roddy Doyle. I loved his novel Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha and because I had tickets to see James Kelman at the Linlithgow Book Festival I assumed that Kieron Smith, boy would be a good starting point for my first taste of his work. I desperately wanted to enjoy the book but after 100 pages I was struggling with the stream-of-consciousness monologue and craved a conventional story arc.

Kieron-Smith-BotyI understood what Kelman was trying to achieve in Kieron Smith, boy with his clever use of language to create an accurate character study and I admire his intellect as a writer but as a reader I’m not ashamed to admit that I wanted to be entertained by Kieron’s antics as I had been with Paddy’s.

And yet although I put the novel aside for now, I was keen to see the man behind the headlines as Kelman is renowned for his controversial views and there was an uproar when he won the Booker Prize in 1994 and one of the judges, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, denounced the book as “a disgrace”.

download (2)After reading from his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky, the audience at Linlithgow got an insight into the passion that drives Kelman to write honestly about the disenfranchised underclass who receives little attention in contemporary fiction. He aims to “cleanse language” and get rid of needless description to concentrate on action and movement.

An audience member asked how he responds to the critics who often slate his work. His answer was, “ F**k them!”

It was a heart-warming reaction for me on a personal level after just receiving some negative feedback on my last novel. It is clear that Kelman is not a people pleaser and he immediately shot up in my estimation.

downloadHe left me gobsmacked again when he told the audience that he is currently working on seven novels and around hundred short stories, not to mention essays! He advised any writers to see themselves as artists and to use their computer as an artist would treat their studio by having lots of art work at different stages in the creative process. This was interesting for me as I’ve always operated on the ‘one-thing-at-a-time’ mindset believing that by doing that I’d have 100% focus on a project. As I’m currently editing my novel, I haven’t continued to dabble in writing short stories at all but maybe I should be more flexible and this would enhance my creativity.

Listening to James Kelman was a privilege. He is a fascinating writer and even within a short time slot he made me think of how value laden individual words and phrases can be. His example was that in Glasgow, at five foot nine, he’s classed as a “big” man in Maryhill but a “wee man” a mile up the road in Bearsden. And he asked us to think about what the description “pretty girl” really means? We all have different interpretations of beauty and these examples of using language with care will help inform my word choice for my novel’s main character.

I plan to give Kieron Smith, boy another go with a more sophisticated outlook and with a better knowledge of the genius behind what appears a non eventful story. James Kelman doesn’t have a reputation for writing easy-to-read books and this is not necessarily a bad thing, since often the most rewarding fiction is the most demanding.

As a reader, do you like a challenge? As a writer, do you have many projects on the go or several?

Roddy Doyle’s Jimmy Rabbitte is Back

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Chuffed to get my mitts on a copy of Gutter magazine.

images (1)I’d like to think of myself as being strong-minded but I’ve never claimed to be physically strong. And yet, I was able to drag a man of 15 stone to Edinburgh yesterday for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival (although the incentive of going for a meal and a visit to the NTS’s  Georgian House made him less resistant).

This year was especially exciting for me as I got the buzz of walking into the on site bookstore and seeing a book which featured one of my short stories on the shelf. I’m very proud to be in the latest edition of Gutter magazine along with a stellar line-up of Scottish writers. But the main reason I hauled my hubby to the EIBF was to see one of my all-time favourite writers – Roddy Doyle.

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My favourite one of the EIBF deckchairs. The Alexander McCall Smith quote is so very true!

Coming from a working class background myself, Roddy’s work appeals to me both as a reader and as a writer. I have the utmost admiration for his affectionate writing about family life, together with a dry sense of black humour that is conveyed to the reader mostly through the use of dialogue.

In 1993 Roddy won the Booker Prize for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. The book was praised for Doyle’s ability to write convincingly in the language of his main protagonist, Paddy Clarke: a ten-year-old boy living in Dublin in the 1960s. I reread this book as part of my ‘Reading Journal’ for my MLitt course and was blown away by his skill.

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Ireland’s master storyteller.

In a first person narration, Paddy describes things in a childlike manner and this makes the writing simple and yet so effective. “The jellyfish was still floating there, like a runny umbrella.”

Genius!

The relevance of the title of the novel only becomes apparent at the very end when Paddy suffers from the social repercussion of his parents’ breakup with the loss of friendships. When his former friends taunt him with jeers of, “Paddy Clarke- Paddy Clarke- has no da. Ha ha ha!” you cannot fail to be moved. Even more poignant is when Paddy is forced to mature beyond his years, “I didn’t listen to them. They were only kids.” It’s a brilliant book along with another one of my favourites,  The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

imagesAnd now, 26 years after he wrote The Commitments, Roddy Doyle has written a sequel to his bestselling Barrytown Trilogy with The Snapper and The Van. He has returned to Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, manager of The Commitments in the original book, to create a new story set in modern-day Dublin. In this opening night event he introduced us to The Guts and I doubt fans will be disappointed. Roddy’s wit is as sharp as ever and he had the audience in stitches with his patter.

I can’t wait to read it!

Is Roddy Doyle one of your favourite writers too? Do you find that your own social background draws you to particular writers?

 

Mustang Sally‘ must be one of the most murdered songs at family weddings and karaoke nights. But go on, click on the link, you know you want to… Give it laldie!

“Listen!
All you wanna do is ride around Sally
(Ride Sally, ride)”

Dissertation Deadline

This time last week was a huge landmark in my writing ‘career’ so far. I submitted my 20, 837 (new lucky number) word dissertation after months of work. To say that I was glad to reach the finish line would be an understatement. The deadline of the 31st of August was only three weeks after a complicated house move and the start of the painful task of job hunting. So August 2012 turned out to be one of the most stressful months that I’ve experienced in years.

Way back at the start of summer (if you can call the wash out weather we’ve had ‘summer’); I booked tickets to see one of my all-time favourite writers at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I have admired Mark Haddon’s writing since reading the brilliant ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ and loved ‘A Spot of Bother’ (the difficult second book) just as much even although it didn’t receive the same critical acclaim. His style of black comedy mixed in with social and ethical themes is exactly the type of writing I dream about achieving.

I was really keen to hear Mark but the event was smack bang in the middle of everything else going on around me and I considered just forgetting about the £10 ticket and concentrating on more pressing issues. It was my writing pal, Catherine, who reminded me not to let domesticity take over and the importance of taking a break away from the laptop. I’m so glad that I listened to Catherine’s advice.  The event was as fantastic and really inspired me.

At the time, I was feeling overwhelmed with constant editing and needed to hear his analogy to encourage me.  Mark likened editing to combing a very dirty and matted Afghan hound. He said that the first stage is getting the dog free of the muck and major tangles but it was a repeated process of combing over and over again before the dog’s coat could finally be glossy and silky smooth.

Mark also said that writing can feel like climbing a mountain. The idea sounds great and you set off full of enthusiasm but as the ascent gets steeper, every stride uphill gets tougher and you question whether it’s been a good idea after all. It’s only when you reach the top of the summit that you can turn round to admire the view and realise that all your hard work was worth it in the end. He also said that he once told a creative writing student that if he was having fun, then the writing wasn’t working. All these little snippets of inspiration helped motivate me on the last steps up the mountain that was my dissertation.

Not only did Mark’s appearance at the Book Festival offer me encouragement and  another new book (The Red House) to be added to my Everest proportioned TBR pile (To Be Read, not a nasty disease as Angels feared I’d caught) but hubby and I also had a lovely visit to Café Andaluz on George Street for delicious tapas and amazing desserts (any excuse to stick my face in the feeding trough).

The motto of this blog post is, if in doubt, do it! Don’t miss out on an opportunity, it might be the pick-me-up at a time when you need it most.

What’s in a Name?

Everything, especially if you’re naming a baby. Wendy Storer uses the baby analogy in her excellent blog post, ‘10 Reasons why writing a book is exactly like bringing up a child’, so the title of your novel is important. Often I’ve heard of writers having very little control over the title of their novel and I’ve experienced this for the first time.

My WIP was believe it or not, originally called, ‘Shades of Grey’. The main character is called Graeme Hunter and he’s forced to confront the truth that there is no such thing as pure good or evil, there’s lots of shades of grey when deciding on the best course of action. The title seemed inspired a year ago when I first started writing it but unless you’ve been living under a stone in recent months, I don’t need to explain why it’s not such a great idea now.

The most effective book title was something that was discussed when I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Book Festival. With limited time and money, I normally choose an event based on my love of the writer’s work, but this year, I took a risk (I know, life on the edge, eh?) and went along to see Kerry Hudson and Lisa O’Donnell, both debut novelists and I haven’t yet read either of their books. My gamble paid off. These writers were really inspiring and very engaging.  Both their novels are set predominantly in Scotland; both take place on council estates; and both are narrated by fierce teenage girls in difficult situations, just my cuppa tea!

Lisa and Kerry were asked to discuss the intriguing titles of their books. Kerry’s novel must have one of the longest titles I’ve come across, ‘Tony Hoggan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ (THBMAIFBHSMM) and one that I can’t wait to read.

Kerry explained that the title came from a line in the novel and was one of many suggested titles but seemed the most appropriate to sum up the sense of her gritty, semi-autobiographical tale of being born into a matriarchal family of Aberdeen fishwives and living in a series of caravans, B&Bs and council estates.

Lisa’s novel also has an interesting title, ‘The Death of Bees’, which has nothing to with nature’s ecosystem but shares the common theme of the underdog with THBMAIFBHSMM. This novel is a chilling tale of two abandoned sisters who bury their negligent parents in the back garden of their Glaswegian home but is full of dark humour. Lisa explained that her book had several potential titles, including The Council Estate Cookbook (complete with recipes at the beginning of each chapter), The Dole Cheque Kid and Echoes of Small Fires before ending up as The Death of Bees. So now I’ve got another striking title to be added to be my TBR pile!

What’s your favourite book title? The Goodreads website lists the most eye-catching or distinctive book titles voted by their members. Number one is, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’  by Seth Grahame-Smith. Which book title would you vote for?