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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Untitled Six Live

11220809_937599549642774_3751509928409613059_nIn the build up to Untitled Six Live event (in conjunction with The Grind), one of the promotional posters stated that there were 6 reasons why it was a good idea to buy a ticket.  Just reading the poster made me burst with pride – I’d be sharing a stage with writers I admire AND raising money for charity!

No. 6 is even more significant after reading that there’s been a shocking increase in the number of teenagers turning to Falkirk Foodbank for help.

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Hubby is my unofficial photographer. (photo credit Grandaddy Flash Photography)

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Daring to perform alongside big names in Scottish writing.

Apart from making a mess of my slot, my biggest fear was being star-struck. I’ve met Janice Galloway before, when she led a writing workshop and I’ve heard her speak several times but to be listed on the poster alongside a literary idol was Christmas come early for me. I’m glad to report I lived to tell the tale and was given a generous welcome on and off stage.

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Meeting the one and only Janice Galloway! (photo credit The Grind)

Of course, Janice was as captivating a performer as ever, reading from her evocative short story collection, Jellyfish but the other writers also blew the crowd away.

Being back in his home-town, the audience loved Alan Bissett in the role of ‘Moira’ and his reading of old poems from Falkirk’s archives. A rising star on the spoken word scene is another local, poet John Kennedy, whose performance went down a storm. Unknown to me, poet Maggi Gibson has Falkirk connections and her selection of poems were a perfect mix of politics and dry humour.We were also privileged to have a preview of stunning new poems from Jenni Fagan and if you haven’t read her brilliant novel, The Panopticon, I’d highly recommend it. And to top the night off for me,  Jenni bought a copy of Talk of the Toun which meant a LOT to think she wanted to read my work and I only hope it doesn’t disappoint her!

Do you have a thriving spoken word scene in your area? Who are your literary idols?

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Alan Bissett aka Moira Bell

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John Kennedy – fresh new talent!

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Magi Gibson gein it laldy!

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Jenni Fagan aka The Dead Queen of Bohemia

Build It and They Will Come

As an avid reader and writer, I love attending literary events for insight and inspiration. Up until very recently this meant that I had to travel west to Glasgow or east to Edinburgh to hear readings by well-known writers.

The reason I no longer have to travel 20+ miles is thanks to [Untitled] and The Grind working hard together to make Falkirk a destination for quality literary gatherings. Following the success of previous events, the latest coup for [Untitled] and The Grind was to feature established names and exciting new writers of Scottish contemporary writing.

The event, called Nomenclature,  which in Latin, means “naming” and is the process of giving specific, descriptive names to things (a new word for me!) was an all-female line-up – ‘No-men-clature’ is quite unusual.

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Fiona gein it laldy!

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Janet sharing one of her anecdotes of family life.

Nomenclature had something for all tastes and was compèred by Jenny Lindsay, of Rally and Broad, who set the tone with her entertaining spoken word performances.

There was also hilarious Scots poetry from Falkirk born award-winning writer Janet Paisley who had the audience in stitches with her dead-pan delivery. Then there was Celtic poetry and music inspired by Scotland’s turbulent history performed by Katharine Macfarlane and Fiona McNeill.

Lucy Ribchester read her evocative short story, The Glass Blower’s Daughter, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Costa Short Story Award and an extract from her excellent debut novel, The Hourglass Factory. Writer Vicki Jarret has recently launched her collection of short stories, The Way Out and the restaurant setting of the story she read was a great taster (couldn’t resist the pun!).

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MacGillivray’s words and music were full of emotion.

The unique voice of MacGillivray was showcased with her haunting music and ethereal words in a performance the like of which I’m sure the venue (a former haunt of mine when it was Rosie’s nightclub and more used to the hits of Madonna than MacGillivray) has ever experienced!

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Janice’s use of comic timing and facial expression is priceless.

For me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, Janice Galloway, the headline act, fulfilled her top billing status. Janice has a powerful presence which permeates a room with her dramatic style and distinctive voice.

Reading a passage from her memoir, This is Not About Me, which describes her sister getting ready for a big night out in Ayr, she used her talent to brilliant effect and wowed the crowd. Janice is one of my all-time favourite writers and to have the chance to hear her read and meet her (she was very sociable considering I came across as a star struck groupie!) was the highlight of the night.

All credit to [Untitled] and The Grind as Nomenclature was proof that you don’t need to be a big city to attract big names.  Do you have access to hearing inspiring writers locally?

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L to R – Vicki Jarret, Janice Galloway, MacGillivrary, Fiona McNeil, Katharine Mcfarlane, Janet Paisley

(Thanks to Eddie McEleney for permission to use his excellent photographs from the event).

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?

 

 

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?

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?