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

The Journey is the Reward

imagesIn the build up to Book Week Scotland 2015 in November, the Scottish Book Trust has posed the question, ‘Have you walked a new path, taken the road less travelled or been faced with a crossroads?’

SBT have provided an opportunity to share a personal story on their website and become part of their national campaign to get Scotland writing.

Here’s the challenge…

Write about a journey in your life. This could be a real journey or an emotional journey, the day you stepped out into the unknown. Did you end up where you planned to go? Did the experience mark a turn in the road or show you the way forward?

download (1)To trigger ideas for the ‘Journeys’ theme, SBT organised a series of free writing workshops across Scotland and when I saw that Jenni Fagan was the writer leading a workshop at the Central Library in Edinburgh I rushed to book a place. I LOVED Jenni’s book, The Panopticon and have previously heard her talk about her writing so I was really keen to take part in her workshop.

Jenni set the scene with some quotes connected to the theme of ‘Journeys’ and my favourite was, “The only journey is the one within” – Rainer Maria Rilke.  This quote related to the Five Dials piece Jenni shared with us that she wrote on letter writing and her life’s journey.

To get us thinking about our own writing, Jenni asked the group to write about why we write and also our earliest memories of reading and writing. The questions made me reflect on how I have developed as a writer and a person. When I was wee, I was a ‘teacher’s pet’ and used my reading and writing ability to fulfill my desire to be a ‘people pleaser’. This need for validation to feed my self-confidence lasted well into my adult years and seeped into my writing. It meant I held back for fear of upsetting or offending a reader until finally I realised that I can’t please everyone and that my writing had to be truthful. This has been an emotional and intellectual journey that’s taken years and one which I’m still on.

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Close up of my favourite tile on the wall of the Central Library. The letter ‘H’ is from a quote from the Book of Proverbs and states, “‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom and with all thy getting, get understanding”. Very apt for a learning journey in a library!

But from the writing prompts which Jenni provided, the one that immediately inspired me was, ‘Write about a journey that starts with fear‘. I remembered a physical journey I took when racing to A & E after my youngest son was injured at school. The emotions from that day are still vivid and as Jenni suggested I will write 100 words on this memory to see if I’m fired up to continue writing. If not, then I’ll dabble with the other writing prompts such as, ‘Write about a journey you were forced to take: grief, separation, illness‘ which instantly reminds me of the trauma of my dad’s sudden death.  Or I’ll try something more light-hearted like my ‘journey’ to lose weight. Who knows yet which path the workshop will lead me down…

As well as spending an afternoon meeting other lovely writers such as Catherine Simpson and Marie-Thérèse Taylor,  I made the journey home energised and keen to write about a journey which meant a lot to me.

Fancy writing about your journey? You can submit your entry here. And if you’re looking for great examples, I recommend reading the submissions by Stephen Watt, Angela Hughes and Nicola Burkhill – a talented trio of writers.

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* Postscript*

It was hard to choose a journey to write about but in the end I settled on the one involving my son’s emergency admission to hospital. If you’d like to read, Burn Rubber, it’s now online on the SBT website.

http://scottishbooktrust.com/writing/journeys/story/burn-rubber

The Power of Words

downloadLast weekend, I gave up my long lie to get up early on Saturday to head through to Glasgow with my pal to The Mitchell Library. We were lucky to get our mitts on a couple of day passes which meant we got four events for £10 – a bargain bookfest! The only negative was the ½ hour gap between each event meant we were stressed about café queues (access to food being the major success criteria of any of our days out).

downloadThe book events were the literature strand of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in partnership with the Aye Write! Book Festival. Each event had the theme of ‘reality’ and how our many ideas of ourselves can be wrapped up in words and how the written word has a unique role to play in exploring the many different aspects of mental health.

download (1)First up on the day’s programme was a writer I’ve read a lot about recently as Jenni Fagan was the only Scot on the prestigious 2013 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list. I’ve also heard rave reviews of her debut novel The Panopticon so I was keen to find out if Jenni’s work lived up to the hype surrounding her success. I wasn’t disappointed!  Jenni is an engaging and inspiring writer and when she read an extract from The Panopticon, I knew instantly that I wanted to read it and see the film adaptation due to be made next year.

imagesThe novel is partly inspired by Jenni’s experiences of growing up in the Scottish foster care system, and the story, set in and around Edinburgh, revolves around 15-year-old Anais Hendricks – who is accused of assaulting a police officer – and her experiences in a young offenders’ institution. I can see why this gothic tale has shocked and affected many readers and I now have a signed copy which has been catapulted to the top of my mountainous tbr pile.

images (2)After a rushed lunch, (luckily we got served quickly and can eat fast!) we heard from Denise Mina who spoke passionately about the concept of guilt and innocence and the difference between illegality and immorality. I’d been to see Denise at an event a few years ago and was impressed by her quick wit. And she was on top form again on Saturday with her thought-provoking statements on everything from the Scottish Independence Referendum to the Tommy Sheridan court case. There is no doubt that Denise is one of Scotland’s finest contemporary crime writers who never shies away from dealing with the complex questions of psychology and society.

images (3)I strongly believe in the power of words but when I read in the programme that Ella download (3)Berthoud claims that she can cure everything from pessimism to PMT by prescribing a book, I admit to feeling slightly cynical about the concept of bilbiotherapy. However there is no doubt that a book can make you feel better and I was impressed by Ella’s encyclopedic  literary knowledge and ability to delve into her The Novel Cure: an A-Z of Literary Remedies to make a book diagnosis for members of the audience.

images (1)The finale of the day was the living legend, Alasdair Gray who is a novelist, poet, artist, short-story writer, and essayist and has explored trauma in both personal and political terms through his work. As always, Alasdair performed his reading in his unique eccentric style and was humble about his status as a polymath and major figure in the Scottish arts world. He talked about his new translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy but when an audience member asked if he would be illustrating it himself he replied that at as he’s nearly 80 years old, he won’t live long enough!

For me the highlight of a great day was Jenni’s event (the baked potato from the café was excellent too, even if I had to wolf it down at speed!) and the chance to enjoy a diverse programme with top class authors in a favourite venue. And all for £10, you cannae beat it with a stick!

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The funny dog pic has no relevance whatsoever to the post except that this play on words made me smile so that was a good enough reason to include it!