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?

 

 

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The Power of Three

images (1)I took a break from writing during the summer and thought it would be like flicking a switch when I decided to tackle my idea for a fourth novel. I was wrong. The routine I’d established was gubbed. I also felt very emotional and unsettled about the referendum for Scottish independence and it meant that I found it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the news. Instead of writing, I got sucked into reading blog posts, newspapers, watching and attending debates in the run-up and aftermath of the vote. By the end of September, it was time to say ‘No thanks’ to faffing around and ‘Yes’ to making a proper start on my idea for a fourth novel!

photo.JPG 55uu519IhdvBMUL._AA160_But I needed some inspiration to get me fired back up again and I found it by going to three excellent writer events.

As part of Stirling’s Off the Page book festival, Laura Marney was appearing at Dunblane library. I’ve read all of Laura’s previous books and had heard her read once before, so I went along expecting it to be a good night. I wasn’t disappointed. Laura is a very bubbly and vibrant personality; she talks 100mph and could easily be a stand-up comedienne. The book she was promoting – For Faughie’s Sake is the sequel to her debut novel – No Wonder I Take a Drink and sounded just as funny and interesting, especially with its referendum theme. Listening to Laura’s enthusiasm for writing was infectious and it gave me a much-needed nudge to get back in the saddle.

photo.JPG 5541Rmw9-bklL._AA160_Another source of stimulation was when I visited the Glasgow Women’s Library to hear Shazia Hobbs read from her debut novel – The Gori’s Daughter. Although the book is described as fiction, it’s clearly based on Shazia’s own upbringing as a mixed race woman who battled against the rejection and hostility her background generated in both Glasgow’s white and Asian communities.  Shazia’s account gave me an insight into a world I know nothing about and I was moved by her honesty in sharing painful memories.

photo.JPG bb51qZQuEUdzL._AA160_The third event I went to was at the C.C.A. in Glasgow and was organised by the Scottish Writers’ Centre where Jackie Kay gave an ‘In Process’ masterclass. Jackie is one of my favourite writers and to hear her speak again is not only inspiring, it’s entertaining too. She read from her memoir, Red Dust Road and a few of her poems from Fiere as well as sharing her writing hints and tips. As I’ve recently been struggling with the opening chapters of my new novel, Jackie’s advice for those writers who work across forms was that rather than forcing your way through a traffic jam of words, change direction and work on something different. Whilst writing her latest novel, she’s adopted a strategy of as she calls it, ‘crop rotation’ and rests the novel while she writes poetry. I’m going to take her advice and park up my novel to write some flash fiction or a short story if the words don’t flow.

How do you keep yourself inspired? Are you guilty of faffing and how do you battle it?

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

Blog-TourI was flattered to receive an invitation from writer Catherine Noble to take part in a series of blog posts where writers nominate others to answer four key questions about their writing process. I ‘know’ Catherine via Twitter and hope to meet her one day in real life too – by the tone of her blog I’m sure we’re on the same wave length.

Some of my answers are things I’ve talked about in previous posts so regular readers (the blog stats reveal this figure is not in the hunners but there are a few of you out there!) might have read it all before and prefer to skip this post, hopefully I’ll see you on the other side. For those diehards or new followers, here are my answers to the questions passed on by Catherine…

1) What am I working on? 

I’m working on my third novel – you could describe me as determined or delusional but I’m definitely not a quitter. My first attempt was really just a personal challenge to see if I could actually go the distance and complete a full length novel. I had never written fiction before, not even short stories and I’m sure if I had the guts to read it now, I’d cringe. It has a DNR order firmly attached to it and its final resting place is in a ‘vintage’ style suitcase (can’t beat Matalan for a bargain in home décor). I got help with the writing (not my fantasies of being published) and went on two Arvon courses, left a permanent job to go to uni to do an MLitt so you’d think novel no.2 would be better. You’d be right; it got within a bawhair (a recognised unit of measurement in the west of Scotland) of being published and was shortlisted in Hookline Book’s competition for writing graduates. The rejections hurt but of course a whiff of success (and short stories being published) made me believe that I could write and helped to keep the dream alive.

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So, third time lucky eh? I love to think that this is THE ONE. I feel my ‘voice’ has developed over the years and because the novel is set in 1985, in the same town I grew up in, I hope the fiction has an authenticity the others lacked. It’s a coming-of-age novel about a teenage friendship and how the dynamics of their relationship has lifelong consequences.

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d class my writing as Scottish contemporary fiction. Novel no.3 deals with gritty themes such as sectarianism and yet it still has lots of black humour in it (at least I hope it’s funny!) I admire writers such as Kerry Hudson and Damian Barr who have also tackled hard-hitting issues but still make room in their writing for lighter moments. That’s what I’m aiming for, and in that sense, my writing style is similar (if I’m gallus enough to compare myself to established writers) but obviously as they are my words, my ideas and my voice, then it has to be different – it’s my story, whatever genre label that’s slapped on it.

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3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write the type of book I want to read. I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, to name but a few, I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to do the same, give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.

4) How does my writing process work?

The initial ideas for novel no.3 came from an assignment I did during my MLitt course. The brief was to write an A to Z on any topic – I’m no expert on anything but myself so I wrote about my childhood. The exercise triggered ideas to expand the piece into something more substantial and before I knew it, no.3 had legs and ran off the page using the ‘freefall’ method. It’s a technique I’d never tried before and helped get the words down and the story out without constantly self-censoring each and every paragraph. The downside is that the editing process has taken much longer than I expected as the initial draft was so rough. I’ve hacked away at the words and tried my best to buff them into something worth sharing – if not, there’s room in the Matalan suitcase and no.1 and 2. would enjoy the company…

T-shirt pic 2This is the closest you’ll see me get to athletics by passing the virtual ‘baton’ to writer Paul Cuddihy to write the next blog post. One of my good pals is the sister-in-law of Paul and I’ve been to two of his book launches – both great evenings where Paul entertained the crowd with words and music. He’s a talented guy whose post will no doubt show off his wit and vibrant personality. Here’s a wee bit about him…

Paul Cuddihy read a lot of books in 2013 and then wrote all about his year of falling in love with literature again in a book called ‘Read All About It’, which is published on Amazon as a paperback and eBook. He’s also written a trilogy of historical fiction novels, as well as a couple of football books. He believes that subtle product placement is the key to book promotion.

Does your writing process sound similar to mine? Has anyone else helped you develop your writing process or have you improved through trial and error?

 

 

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?