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?

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Writing Competitions-In It To Win It!

My name is Helen and I’m addicted to quality stationery.There you go, I’ve admitted it publicly. And one of my annual highlights is always starting a fresh diary (I know it’s sad). This year’s object of my affection is a lovely Writer’s Diary (thankfully my eldest son responded to repeated hints (I don’t do subtle) for a Xmas present I would actually use. The diary is produced by Mslexia and is packed full of ideas and info for women writers.  On one of the first pages it has a Submissions section for you to record when and where you’ve sent your precious masterpieces.There’s nothing quite like pages of blank columns to make me feel under pressure.  And as the publisher, Bloomsbury has dubbed 2012 as the year of the short story, I felt that I should get cracking and enter a short story competition.

I’ve not got a lot of experience of writing short stories and I know it’s not easy. With strict word limits you can’t afford to waste a single word.  I’m in awe of writers who can pull off a powerful story succinctly. The ultimate in flash fiction, a short form of storytelling, has got to be Ernest Hemingway’s work of genius, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Wow! How can six words be so evocative? Maybe stunning examples like that are why I’ve avoided the genre, but it was time to face my fear.

I needed a theme and a deadline to motivate me. And I found it on a trip to visit the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.  Hubby and I went as part of a festive trip to Auld Reekie.  The gallery is a fantastic neo-gothic red sandstone building and has something to suit everyone’s taste whether you like traditional paintings of Scottish lairds or photographs of Glaswegian slums.  It’s well worth a visit and it’s free entry! On the way out, I picked up a leaflet for a competition called, ‘Inspired? Get Writing!’  There’s still time to enter! 
http://www.nationalgalleries.org/education/competitions I chose to write about a striking (and a bit scary) portrait of the acclaimed writer, committed feminist and social activist, Naomi Mitchison, painted by Percy Wyndham Lewis. She sounded like my kind of woman!  

A very clever lady but what a dour faced looking besom!

sent off my submission this week and felt quite smug at being able to make my first entry under the Submissions section of my new diary. Entering the competition has fired me up to enter as many as I can in the hope of being published. Read a lot, write a lot is my new mantra and the competitions will give me a goal and the chance to practise, practise, and practise my writing skills. The chances of winning are slim but as they say, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. Watch this space…