Friends with Benefits (of the literary kind only!)

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Max and Jess lapping up the spring sunshine

Yesterday I walked my two dogs in the fields behind my house on a beautiful sunny spring day. And I felt lucky. This isn’t going to be a ‘count my blessings’ cheesy post but I do try to appreciate simple pleasures and I don’t take anything for granted, especially having a loving family and great friends in my life.

 

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Having a support network is really important to me (I’ve certainly tested those close to me over the years!) and it means a lot when folk are genuinely interested in my writing journey. When I finished my MLitt in 2012, I was cut loose from the demands of the course and could easily have let my writing ambitions drift without assignment and dissertation deadlines. After being part of a tight-knit group for a year, it would also be easy to feel isolated and worry that I’d need to take the next steps on my writing journey on my tod.

That’s why I feel lucky when I meet up with friends from my uni class to go to literary events and to catch up for a good blether. Last week, the gathering was at my house (my hostess skills were challenged with hubby aka the Kitchen King absent). We’ve made an effort to stay in touch after graduation and this was a chance to share our news, talk about books, writers we admire, how our own writing was progressing (or not!) and put the world to rights including a lively discussion on the media coverage of the Referendum (I finally got round to reading And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson – a must read before the independence vote. It’s an epic tale of Scotland’s political history over the last 50 years and is very cleverly structured). Over a few glasses of fizz and between me stressing over the lasagne not cooking fast enough and forgetting to feed the stove, we also talked about senses and how smell is so important when remembering someone close to you – lentil soup and Imperial Leather soap reminded one of our group of his granny. These wee chats might seem insignificant but for me they stimulate all sorts of ideas for my writing.

download (2)But the benefit of our get-togethers is the feeling of being part of a supportive like-minded group of creative people.  This is an issue which was highlighted in the latest edition of Mslexia magazine. The article, ‘What Katie Did Next’ by Katie M Anderson acknowledged that after finishing a degree many students return to full-time jobs making it harder to maintain momentum. She suggests meeting fellow students, attending literary events, writing workshops, and submitting to competitions (smug tick in all the boxes for me!).

Seven months after finishing the first draft of my novel and STILL editing, I also related to “the problem of heightened expectation…an MA is not a ‘golden ticket’ – most of us don’t appear on the other side with a finished publishable work to show for it.”

download (3)The article was particularly relevant following the stushie in the media over Hanif Kureishi comments in The Telegraph that creative writing courses are a waste of time (the subject of a previous blog post). The Buddha of Suburbia author attacked expensive University courses and their ‘talentless’ students, despite the fact he teaches creative writing at Kingston University and claimed it would be “madness” to pay thousands to enrol in an MA.

In the Mslexia article, a small survey of graduates stated that after graduation, 55% finished the book they were writing, 30% were taken on by a literary agent and 27% were published.  So was it worth it for this group of graduates? Only the individual can decide what ‘success’ means to them. At the very least, whilst my novel is still a WIP and unpublished, I have been successful in gaining a group of friends I admire and respect, and that’s something I value highly and can’t put a price on.

Was your creative writing course worthwhile? Do you feel the need for support from a writing group? How do your family and friends support your writing ambitions?

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The Mither Tongue

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Ethyl and I graduating with our MLitt in Creative Writing from Stirling University.

Last week I met up with ma good pal and former MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith tae talk books and writing. We spent 5+ hours blethering without drawing breath and one of the many topics we covered was writing in  Scots.

downloadRecently, the bestselling children’s book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson was translated into Scots by James Robertson and this has been followed by The Gruffalo’s Wean, a Scots version of The Gruffalo’s Child.  I think this is a brilliant move tae make sure Scottish children are aware of their mither tongue.

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This blog is not about politics but it’s impossible tae ignore the fact that in less than a year, I will be voting in the Independence Referendum. And how will I vote? I’ll vote with ma heart, not ma heid. I don’t know a lot about the economic arguments for and against independence but I do know that I’ve always considered myself as Scottish, not British.

I think this strong sense of Scottish identity and pride in ma heritage might explain ma fascination with the language of ma birth. I love Scots words like glaikit, dreich and scunner.

This wee clip of Nicola Swankie’s 50 Favourite Weird Scottish Words made me smile. How many do you use or recognise?

But although when I’m writing I like tae include Scots words in dialogue, tae write the entire text in Scots requires expertise and skill. Ethyl has written many pieces in old Scots and I’ve asked her tae share her experience.

Can you tell us why you enjoy writing in your mither tongue?

It seems more natural way to express my thoughts. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents who spoke broad Scots… so it’s like being grounded I guess.

Do you find it harder tae write in Scots?

Naw. Weel if ah’m strecht wi ye it’s the spellin. Scots is mair in the lug if ye git ma drift. Ay is ‘yes’. Aye with the extra e maks ‘always.’ You need to listen to hear the difference.images (2)

What advice would you give writers who’d like tae try writing in Scots?

First listen. The rhythm and cadence is different, even the word order. Also get yourself a good dictionary Scots-English & vice versa.

Whose writing would you recommend as a good example of writing in Scots?

John Galt … old fashioned but great writing. Alan Bissett for emphasis on modern slang. James Robertson is very respectful of its useage.

Here’s a sample of Ethyl’s writing and you can see why I’ve got so much respect for her talent as a writer.

Nae Way Back

Whit fur did ah dae this? Whit makt me think it wud be aw richt? Aifter aw ah’m nae glaikit. Weel nae fur ordnar. Wan thing fur shair it’s the straicht an narra frae noo on. An nae argiein.

Tae tell the truth ah did think ah wis raither smairt. Aifter aw ah din it aw masel. Me an ma big ego. Naw. Mair lik me an ma big heid.

If the Yoge maister hudna sayed ah wis his best pupil, mibbe ah wudna hae mindit doddlin alang lik the rest o the cless. Ye see, maist o thaim canna levitate at aw. But therr ah wis, clear o the flair, an floatin lik a dream; an ah kent they wur jeelous whan they saw me dain it week aifter week, wi nae wauchle.

Mind ye the Yoge did say it wis jist fur cless. Whaur he cud kep an eye lik.

Ah shuda taen tent, an no allooed masel tae git cairrit awa wi ma ain consait. Bit naw. Ah jist hud tae gang that bit faurer, an try a fu, oot o boddy expairience, on ma ain.

An it wisna sair. An extra hauf hoor’s meditation, twa extra mantras, an ah wis awa as nice as ye like, an heidin up here tae the ceilin.

Problem is ah’m here yit. An aw the time ah’m seein masel. At least ah can see ma boddy, doon therr streetched oot on the bed, as if ah’m sleepin. Bit ah’m nae. Ah’m up here, fashin aboot gittin doon agane, fur ah forgot tae luk thon bit up in ma manual, an it’s ower late noo. Talk aboot bein wice aifter the event. An talk aboot bein feart. Ay … ah shud … ah shud nivver hae sterted this. 

Thanks Ethyl, that was a braw wee tale.

Have you tried writing in Scots or any other native language? Do you enjoy reading work in Scots? Is there a favourite writer you admire who writes in Scots?

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The Craft and Graft of Novel Writing

Last night, I attended an ‘In Process’ Masterclass –“The art and craft of writing full-length fiction” delivered by James Robertson. The event was organised by the Scottish Writers’ Centre in collaboration with Stirling’s Makar, Anita Govan.

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download (5)I’d heard James speak before at the Linlithgow Book Festival but that event was aimed at readers rather than writers. Ever since, I’ve had ‘And the Land Lay Still’ on my TBR pile but I’ve yet to get round to reading it or any of the other three novels James has written. This was a pity as I’m sure I’d have gotten even more from the event if I had more background knowledge.  However, it was still an excellent session with James being open and honest about his writing career. He shared with us the fact that he writes between 5 and 7 drafts before he is happy to send a novel out into the world. But he said that he is never satisfied that a novel is perfect, it’s just the best job he can make of telling that story.images (3)

‘And the Land lay Still’ has been widely praised for its breadth of exploration of Scottish society in the latter half of the 20th century and in 2010, won the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year. And yet James was very humble about his writing talent and reassured the audience that his success hasn’t come easily.

For me, the most heartening snippet from James was that he wrote 3 or 4 novels and had many false starts before he was published. His key message was that writing is a combination between craft and graft. He reassured us that none of the writing we had ever abandoned is wasted as it all goes towards improving our writing ability. His analogy was simple and so true; a musician can’t play complicated pieces unless he has practised his art over and over again.download (1)

The talk from James was very encouraging for me as I’ve recently got back in the saddle with my writing and I’m attempting to start a brand new WIP. I’d finally accepted that the 20k words of a WIP that I’d produced for my MLitt dissertation was going nowhere. I wanted to start something fresh that came from the heart rather than the head. I’d spent a year over-thinking what I was writing for an audience of my uni tutor, mentor, class-mates, and to satisfy grades for my degree. By the end of the course, the WIP had lost its heartbeat after having the guts ripped out of it during endless revisions. There was barely a pulse left and I struggled to decide whether it was worth giving it the kiss of life to revive it or to put it out its misery and pull the plug on it.

download (2)Now, after taking a step back, I’ve slapped a DNR on the old WIP and I’m fired up again to write something new very loosely based on my own teenage years.  This WIP feels right, my ‘voice’ is authentic and I’m writing it just for ME. I believe that if my motivation is right, then it will show in the writing. This time I’m not writing for my ego and looking for praise from others so success or failure is irrelevant. I’m writing again JUST because I love it and I’m doing it for the journey and not the outcome.

I can’t run 13k but I can write 13k words and that alone makes me feel good. It’s very early days and this latest WIP might not have the legs to go the distance but I’m enjoying writing it and that’s really what it’s all about, everything else is a bonus.

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Have you given ever up on a WIP? Or do you stick with it until the bitter end?