Reading, Writing and the World of Work

Last Wednesday, I spent the morning at Dalmarnock Primary School in the east end of Glasgow. This wasn’t my first visit to the school as I was there earlier this academic session to deliver training for the teachers in the Reflective Reading programme. But this time, I was there to meet the P7 pupils as part of their World of Work event.
I’d been invited along to chat to the pupils about my ‘job’ as an author. Like most authors, I don’t earn a living from my writing and do other jobs too so I don’t list my main occupation as ‘writer’. But for the purposes of suggesting a diverse range of options to the pupils I was very happy to represent writing as a career choice. I was also keen to take part in the event as Dalmarnock PS is a fabulous school which recently benefited from the Pupil Equity Fund to receive additional support, to help them close the poverty related attainment gap in their school.


As a writer, I feel passionately about challenging social class barriers and representing working class voices in fiction, particularly from a female point of view. When I was in P7, the only professional people I knew in person were my teachers, the doctor and the priest. I never ever dreamed of being an author, this was a job that didn’t seem possible for someone like me who lived in a council house.

I was an avid reader (thank you Falkirk libraries!) but despite my love of books filling my mind with stories, to picture myself as an author was beyond my imagination. To set this scenario in context, from the 18 pupils in my P7 class, I was the only one who went on to further education to train as a primary school teacher. One of the reasons I believe that influenced my career choice (and the fact I failed to get in to Art School!) was that it was one of the only professional jobs I had encountered in real life.

Willow the star attraction!

In the school hall, I met the excited pupils in groups of three and asked each one what they wanted to be when they grew up. Not surprisingly, the most popular answer from the boys was footballer. The top choice of the girls was beautician. I did my best to be a cheerleader for authors but my ‘stall’ had to compete with the fluffy ball of cuteness that was Willow on the Therapet stand.
I also took the chance to talk to the pupils about their favourite authors. David Walliams scored highly with his books Gangsta Granny and Ratburger mentioned often along with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. The importance of reading for pleasure is a key message when I deliver reflective reading training so it was great to hear the pupils talking positively about books.

 
“When children, particularly the poorest, have fallen behind in reading by 11, the impact can last for the rest of their lives. They are less likely to go on to secure good qualifications. Their chances of getting a good job and pulling themselves out of poverty are severely diminished.” Read on, Get on.

The P7s I met might not pursue writing as a career but it was a brilliant opportunity to share my love of books and reading with them. Here’s hoping that whatever job they end up doing, it’ll not be all work and no play, and that their downtime will involve enjoying a good book, especially one written by an author they once met at school!

Wearing Bimbo’s sunglasses featured on the cover of Talk of the Toun.

Having fun with a Buy Buy Baby bookmark.

 

Sharing the Joy of Reading

I was recently asked in a Q and A, “What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?” My answer was, “Without a doubt, it’s meeting readers. For someone to tell me that they’ve read and enjoyed my books is very satisfying and makes all the time and effort worthwhile. I also get a huge buzz from seeing my book on display in a bookshop or library. When I was a student, I worked in a library and I would never have believed that one day my book would be on a shelf. It’s a cliché but it’s truly a dream come true.”

Now THAT’s what I call a chair for a storyteller!

That’s why being asked to host the local World Book Night (WBN) for Falkirk Libraries meant so much to me. There I was, back in Denny Library, where I once stood behind the counter issuing books to readers but this time I was the author!

The old Denny Library where I worked on Saturdays.

The stunning new library is on the same site and it’s now the centrepiece of the redevelopment of the town centre.

I’ve previously blogged about my passion for libraries and I’ve always been very vocal on social media in my belief that libraries are the heartbeat of a community and are essential as dream factories.

The gorgeous new Denny Library.

Books on the shelves of a library are full of people I’ve yet to meet, places I’ve yet to visit and adventures I’ve yet to have and my world would have been far smaller without access to my local library as a child. Growing up with weekly visits to Bonnybridge Library made me an avid reader and this love of words created the desire to become an author.

Fab mural on the exterior of Bonnybridge Library.

 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the written word than to hold a spoken word event and it was a privilege to spend Saturday afternoon (WBN falls on a Sunday this year so our event was a wee bit early) with poets and authors who came to share their work with the local community.

An honour to read my novel at the library I once worked in!

There were superb readings from debut novelist, Ross Sayers who read extracts from Mary’s the Name,  Emma Mooney read from her novels, A Beautiful Game and Wings to Fly, Charlie Clark read from his debut novel, Empty Dark Moira Martin and Anne Dromgoole from Denny Writers read their short stories, and we heard powerful poetry from Lesley Traynor, Carol Harley, Maggie Laidlaw and Janet Crawford.

 

It doesn’t need to be WBN to have a gathering of performers and it would be great to see libraries across Scotland hosting regular spoken word events. It might be another way of making sure a library remains the beating heart of a community because the worry is, if you don’t use it, you lose it!

2015 – A Year of Highs!

images1486898_544680102355976_7465735477020805205_nAchieving my ambition of being a published novelist has taken 10 years of writing featuring more downs than ups. And many times I questioned my sanity for chasing this dream.

But there’s no point in wasting energy dwelling on the negatives, the main thing is that 2015 was finally the year when Talk of the Toun (TOTT) made the leap from my laptop to readers’ book shelves!

There were many ‘pinch myself’ moments but I’ve narrowed them down to my top 10 (in no particular order)…

  1. Being surrounded by family and friends sharing my excitement at the launch events
  2. Having TOTT featured in national and local newspapers
  3. Seeing my book on the shelf and window of my local branch of Waterstones
  4. Hearing that there was a waiting list to borrow my book at Falkirk library
  5. Being invited as a local author to take part in library events for Book Week Scotland
  6. Getting 5 star reviews from readers
  7. Answering Q&As and writing guest posts for the blog tour
  8. Being selected as one of Naomi Frisby’s ‘books of the year
  9. Having acclaimed writer Jenni Fagan asking to buy a signed copy
  10. Sharing a stage with one of my literary idols – Janice Galloway
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Talk of the Toun’s launch wasn’t national news but it was a BIG deal to me!

I’m sure the buzz will settle down in 2016 but I’ve already got two events in the diary – one east and one west (more details here) to keep the momentum going and I’d love to see my diary with more opportunities to take Bimbo the poodle out and about and meet readers. I’ve also got some exciting ideas to revisit my previous novel, Buy Buy Baby, so it’s a case of watch this space for developments and see if next year shapes up to be as amazing as 2015…

What were your 2015 highlights? Do you have any new projects planned for 2016?

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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.

 

 

Walking with Words

If there’s a cultural event locally and It’s free then I’m all over it like a rash. The idea of ‘Walking with Words’ to combine image, word play and local heritage on a walk along the Forth and Clyde Canal sounded like the perfect way to spend a sunny September morning.

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Walk a mile in his horseshoes…

imagesThe walks are the brainchild of the Reader in Residence at Falkirk Libraries(a post funded by the Scottish Book Trust), Jan Bee Brown who invited the participants to “snap and natter, tweet and twitter, hike and haiku” to explore the theme of transformation.  The context for the event was set by an informative pre-walk presentation by local historian Geoff Bailey who used vintage maps and images to compare and contrast the past and present landscape around Falkirk and its connection to the ‘Great Canal’.

Fired up to see the ‘after’ of the area which oozes industrial heritage our intrepid group hit the streets of Falkirk to navigate from the town centre along to Lock 16 before finishing at the Falkirk Wheel.

On the way to the iconic landmark, Jan encouraged the group to look at the area with fresh eyes, as if we were viewing the canal through the eye of Falkirk’s newest tourist attraction, the Kelpies, modelled on the type of Clydesdale horse which once trod the tow paths.

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Falkirk’s very own Banksy!

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Power to the People!

The thing that struck me most was how the area had changed since I was at high school.  In my novel, Talk of the Toun, the main characters go to St Paddy’s High School, based on St Mungo’s High School in Falkirk.  One of the opening scenes describes the two main characters ‘dogging’ (truanting – not the meaning dogging has in the contemporary sense!) school and taking a shortcut to the town centre via the ‘Bleachy’.

Today, the area has been redeveloped as an industrial zone but this was how I remembered it and described it in my novel. Here’s the extract…

The Bleachy gave me the heebie-jeebies and I’d never walked it alone even in daylight hours. Mr Stanners told us in our first year History class that the land opposite our school was once used as a bleach field to let cloth dry out in the sun. It was hard to imagine anything in the area being clean and bright these days. The Bleachy was now a maze of boxy concrete buildings with corrugated iron flat roofs and lock-up garages. Round every corner, mad dogs strained on their leash until their mouths foamed if you dared go near the yards of the garages and workshops that lined the muddy path. We called them Bandeath dugs; they were usually a cross between an Alsatian and a wolf and they came from the Bandeath dog shelter in Stirling. No one in their right mind would buy a dog that looked as pig ugly as these brutes. They weren’t pets; Bandeath dugs were tougher than night club bouncers.

The puddles along the Bleachy were always oily and rubbish piled up in corners like multi-coloured snow drifts. It wasn’t the devil dogs and the filth that freaked me out. The Bleachy was always dark, even on a sunny day and then there would be the men on their tea breaks, overalls rolled down to their waist, greasy thumb and index finger holding a fag between them and blowing smoke rings.

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Maw, Paw and the weans.

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Falkirk figures – Robert Barr, the man who gave Scotland its other national drink – Irn-Bru along with Dr Harold Lyon founder of Strathcarron Hospice.

Halfway along the route, Jan suggested we stop at a set of benches beside public art that I didn’t even know existed prior to the walk and she suggested that we write any words or phrases that popped into our minds. Some of my jottings included ‘transformational change’, ‘same but different’ and ‘coming and going’. Not exactly profound statements but who knows how the walk will fuel my writing once my brain has downloaded the sights and sounds.

This was the first of a series of ‘Walking with Words’ events and if you’re in the Falkirk area I’d highly recommend them to find all the inspiration you need on the hoof. You can book a place here.

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Any relation to Lady Gaga?

Do you find walking stirs your creative juices? Which walks are sensory rich for you?