A Year of Books

Too many books, too little time.

This realisation will haunt me to my grave. I’m constantly adding titles to my ‘to be read’ list in the full knowledge that I can’t read fast enough to keep up!

That’s why I have to be very selective and only read books that I feel confident won’t be a waste of precious reading time. I make my choices based on reviews featured on literary blogs, magazines and word-of-mouth recommendations and unlike previous years, this year I’ve not abandoned a single book. The fact that I finished all 55 books means I rate them but some more than others which means they don’t earn a place on my bookshelves. I love books but I also love space. This means I don’t want to clutter up my home with bookcases everywhere so when I moved to this house seven years ago, I bought two bookcases and decided on a ‘one in, one out’ policy rather than having to add more shelving. The books that don’t make the grade get donated to the charity shop or passed on to friends and only very few books keep their place on the shelves permanently.

Some of these retain their spot for sentimental reasons such as the signed copy of Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. He came to give a masterclass when I did my MLitt so the book has happy memories of a year when I immersed myself in books and writing. Favourite authors have been awarded a whole section when I’ve read several of their books. I have all 7 titles written by my close friend, Karen Campbell, whose latest novel, The Sound of the Hours, came out this year and will always be guaranteed a space in my bookcase. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure it’s on your 2020 tbr list – I promise you’ll not be disappointed!

Looking at the list of 55 books, like last year, I notice that I’ve read a few memoirs. My default setting is cynical, and I think that’s why memoirs appeal to me. Sometimes fiction novels can be too farfetched for me and I like a story based on true life or an insight into someone’s world.

I’m also drawn to shorter novels. If a book is a doorstopper it puts me off. I like to read a different book every week so one that will involve a couple of weeks reading time is a big commitment. I read Becoming, Michelle Obama’s chunky 400 page memoir and although I found it interesting and inspiring, there was far too much detail for me.

Stand out books of the year? As always, it’s hard to pick only a few but the ones that have secured their place in the bookcase alongside The Sound of the Hours are: –

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

 

Which books would you suggest that I add to my 2020 tbr list?

Happy Book Birthday!

My wean is old year old today!

This time last July, my novel. Buy Buy Baby, was launched to an ever-supportive audience of family and friends in Falkirk. It was a brilliant night where my great pal and fellow author, Karen Campbell, set up the banter with a lively Q and A before I road-tested a couple of readings from the book.

At the end of the night, I headed home where corks were popped and I basked in the buzz of my latest novel being out in the world. The celebration was also fuelled by nervous energy but I’ve learned a lot since being a debut novelist and that gave me a reality check. For a start, writing a novel is an achievement to be proud of, but it’s not as if I’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I didn’t need to worry about the media tracking me down because I had a new book out.

But I didn’t ever expect fame and fortune from my writing (just as well!). What I did hope for was that readers would enjoy my second novel just as much as my debut. I’ve been lucky. Many folk have told me that they actually prefer Buy Buy Baby to Talk of the Toun. This was a huge relief as I’d wondered how it would compare as they’re very different stories and expectations might not be met if they were looking for more of the same.

The best bit about publishing another novel? I’ve managed to get out and about sharing extracts from Buy Buy Baby at events at all over Scotland. Have book, will travel! I’ve been to Waterstones branches in Stirling, Argyle St and Byres Road in Glasgow, Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, met the Bathgate Book Group, appeared at Berwick Book Festival, Kilsyth Library, Denny Library, Off the Page Book Festival, Booked! Cumbernauld Cabaret and I’ll be at the Ness Book Fest and Portobello Book Festival this October. That wean of my mine gets about!

Often at these events, I get asked, “What do you enjoy most about being an author?” It’s an easy one to answer! “Meeting readers and getting the chance to share my work”.

To mark my book’s birthday, I’m running a giveaway over on Goodreads for a signed copy. Hop over there to enter – good luck! But if you’re not feeling lucky and don’t want to take a chance, it’s only 99p for the month of July – snap up a book bargain for your summer reading!

I’ll raise a glass on 7th July (any excuse!) and hope that you read and enjoy Buy Buy Baby.

What’s the best birthday present you could ‘give’ my book? Share the love with a wee review (it only needs to be a few lines) on Amazon/Goodreads or tell your pals. Thanks, from me and the wean. Cheers!

 

You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

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A dream come true! Couldn’t resist a ‘shelfie’ in Waterstones in Falkirk.

After writing hunners of thousands of words over the last ten years which made their way into short stories and three novels I FINALLY achieved my dream of having a book traditionally published. Along the way there were more rejections than boosts but I kept the faith and kept writing and I did it!

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With brilliant Falkirk launch host – writer Paul Cuddihy.

The climax of the ‘journey’ was to stand in front of my family and friends and read from Talk of the Toun at the packed launch events in Falkirk and Glasgow in association with Waterstones.

It was so exciting to get to this point but scary too as I didn’t want to disappoint the folk who’d encouraged and supported me along the way. This was a milestone in my life and not only did I want to enjoy it, I wanted it to be a success. I felt under pressure to live up to the hype I’d been drumming up for months. The nerves kicked in days before when it all started to feel surreal when I opened a copy of the Daily Record and the Herald and there was my book and my face in national newspapers. The madness continued with the blog tour meaning there was lots of online book banter and I still found it hard to get my head around the fact that I had readers, like a real writer!

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Glasgow launch host – talented writer Karen Campbell.

It’s a privilege to be published and an honour to think people want to spend their hard-earned cash and precious leisure time getting to know the characters I created.

It’s been a helluva ride and I’d like to take the chance to thank those who’ve helped me achieve my dream. Top of the list is my husband Donald, the love of my life, who has always believed in me and supported me every word of the way.

I am also lucky to count Karen Campbell and Anne Glennie as close friends and my unofficial mentors and they continue to be a great source of encouragement and inspiration.

 

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My MLitt classmates from Stirling University.

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Pals who took the cover theme to another level!

Credit too goes to my MLitt classmates and tutor Paula Morris, fellow Thunder Point writer Margot McCuaig, and far too many long-suffering pals to name here who acted as cheerleaders, minus the pom poms.

A special thank you must also go to Seonaid and Huw Francis at ThunderPoint who have worked hard to make Talk of the Toun a reality.

 

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Me with hubby and youngest son (unfortunately my eldest son had already left before the family photo shoot!).

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Sharing the moment with my proud mum and wee sister.

 

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My dog Jess loved Talk of the Toun – I hope if you read it you enjoy it too!

 

(Falkirk launch photos credited to Grandaddy Flash photography)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the World in 3 Days

3af9fde0I travelled east three times last week (by train not in a hot air balloon!) to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The theme for this year’s programme was ‘Around the World’ to showcase some of the most interesting authors from across the planet.

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Peter and Karen in conversation with EIBF’s director Nick Barley.

The first event I attended had the title, ‘Can We Ever Escape From Ourselves?’ and featured Karen Campbell and Peter Stamm. This combo initially seemed an odd match but it soon became apparent that both authors shared a common theme in their latest novels. You can read my review of Karen’s book, Rise, here but to give you a wee taster it’s set in Argyllshire where several characters cross paths who are all on the run from past experiences that haunt them.download

Peter’s book, All Days Are Night, is set in Switzerland and is an exploration of how a high-profile woman struggles to make sense of her life after a horrific crash which results in requiring facial reconstruction. A person’s sense of identity and the search for inner peace was discussed by both writers and the thought-provoking events raised more questions than answers leaving the audience hanging on every word.

imagesI bobbed back to Edinburgh with hubby two days later to hear another engaging author delving into issues with an international flavour. This time it was the turn of acclaimed actress Meera Syal who spoke to a packed audience about her new novel, The House of Hidden Mothers in the ‘Dreams of Motherhood and Freedom‘ event.

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Lee Randall chaired Meera’s event.

I read the book recently and it was an eye-opener as I’d no idea that India was the cheapest place for ‘fertility tourism’ as poverty makes Indian women happy to bear children for infertile western couples who find the costs lower and the legislation less stringent. The contrast between the affluent main character in London (known as a Non Resident Indian) and the deprived surrogate mother in rural India was fascinating and promoted questions from the audience over the ethics of this ‘rent a womb’ business and feminist issues related to the changing role of women in different cultures.

My third trip east was to meet some of my fellow ThunderPoint authors. This was a great chance for me to build new friendships and to learn from the experience of those who’ve already trodden the publication path. It was exciting too to see their books on display in the festival’s book store and I hope that this time next year my novel will join theirs on the shelves. All three of the ThunderPoint writers have set their books in Scotland (although Margot’s characters also hop across the water to Rathlin Island in Ireland) so if you’re interested in quality Scottish fiction I’d highly recommend you check out the work of Margot McCuaig, Jackie McLean and Helen Forbes (who has the same name as my beloved gran – another born storyteller!).

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L to R – Me with Jackie McLean, Margot McCuaig, Helen Forbes

The End of an Edit

Laugh at me if you like but I don’t mind admitting that when I reached the final page of THE BIG EDIT (TBE), I felt a bit emotional. If it hadn’t been a school night, I would’ve popped a celebratory cork (any excuse, I know).

download (2)It feels like I’ve been working on TBE for a looong time! In reality, I started the process last September and seven months later I’ve finally finished. In the course of TBE, I somehow managed to increase the word count by almost 20k. This wasn’t a conscious decision to pad out the story, it was simply the realisation that there were gaps all over the place and certain scenes were under-written. My writing can be dialogue heavy and I often forget that a bit more description is required to create a sense of place. So by darning a few holes here and there, the total word count is now 102k.

This is the third novel I’ve written and I’ve used an entirely different approach – the freefall method. I’ve blogged before about the pros and cons of the freefall method and the main negative is that TBE has taken much much longer than I’d have liked as my first draft was rougher than rough with hunners of typos, plot inconsistences, repetitive words and phrases – pretty guff in fact.  No wonder it’s taken me forever to reach page 364!

imagesI also used a new process for TBE. This time, I printed off the manuscript as I find it easier to spot mistakes on paper than on the screen. Picturing myself as Miss Jean Brodie, I unleashed my red pen until most pages had suffered a bloodbath of ink. I did the paper edit a few pages at a time and then read these pages aloud. Hearing the rhythm of the words really helped spot clunky phrases before I made any changes on screen. It was a three part process – edit on paper, edit aloud, edit on screen.

Hopefully TBE will have been worth all the time and effort and it means that I can now take the next step. After a few more minor tweaks (there’s always a better word, phrase…) I need to take a deep breath and send it to my two beta readers – both willing victims close friends. I’ve asked my colleague Anne Glennie, a literacy expert and writer Karen Campbell, my unofficial mentor to cast their critical eyes over my manuscript and offer their initial thoughts. I know from previous experience that they will give me honest feedback and not just tell me what I want to hear. There’s no point in asking your pal to massage your ego when you need a genuine critique although I hope they’re not too harsh…

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What’s your editing process? Do you use trusted beta readers to give you initial feedback?

 

 

 

WoMentoring Project

After a wary dabble with Twitter, I now encourage others to get Tweeting to reap the benefits of interacting with like-minded folk. It was via Twitter that I heard about the WoMentoring Project founded by writer Kerry Hudson. I read Kerry’s first book -Tony Hoggan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and loved it and have followed her travel adventures on Twitter ever since. She’s a passionate individual who has given up hunners of hours in creating WoMentoring and it’s a project that is sure to make a difference in supporting female writers. Kerry has already enlisted the support of a number of female writers volunteering to be mentors and had the illustrations below designed for free by Sally Jane Thompson.  Here’s a bit of info from Kerry to help explain it better than I can…

WoMen3So, what’s it all about?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

Why do we need it?

WoMentoringIllo2WebLike many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

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.

WoMentoringIllo3WebApplications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

I’m very fortunate in having a close friend who is also a talented writer and have used and abused Karen Campbell‘s unofficial mentoring for years so I know how important it is for new writers to get the support they need on their writing journey. (Karen is one of the fiction writers who has volunteered to be a mentor).

If you want to know more about the WoMentoring Project and want to get involved then visit their website launched today.

You can also follow WoMentoring Project at @WoMentoringP on Twitter and use the hashtag #WoMentoring to spread the word. You’d be an eejit not to be part of this great initiative!

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Aye Write!

download (1)The name of Glasgow’s book festival, Aye Write!, is a clever play on words and derives from the Glaswegian phrase, “Aye, right,” a double positive which actually means a negative as in me saying,

‘I’m gonna run a marathon.’

‘Aye right!’

With one glance at my shape and size, that would be a Glaswegian’s automatic reply.

I’ve been a fan since Aye Write! started in 2005 and although it may not have the same international status (not yet anyway) as its big sister in Edinburgh, you’d find it hard to beat Aye Write! for bringing a better range of quality world-class writers to Glasgow or indeed Scotland. It also has the added bonus of being held in the landmark venue of the Mitchell Library ( I was lucky to go on a Behind the Scenes tour recently) so there’s no need to worry about your high heels sinking in a quagmire of muddy grass at outside venues.

In Planet Helen, I have unlimited time and money to attend every Aye Write! event that I fancy but unfortunately, in the real world where I’m forced to live, I have to be selective. This year, I was sneaky and guaranteed the company of my best friend Veronica by buying her tickets for her birthday.

images (1)download (4)I chose one of the events for personal reasons as my good friend, writer Karen Campbell was officially launching her latest book, This is Where I Am. This is Karen’s fifth book and as I’ve been at every other launch, there was no way I was missing this one. This new book is an exciting and brave departure from Karen’s previous series of novels and I’d recommend reading the review by Isabel Costello to find out more. I haven’t finished my copy but on what I’ve read so far, I promise that you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for a poignant account of the awkward relationship between Abdi, a Somali refugee and his mentor, newly widowed Debs when they meet once a month in a different part of Glasgow. But don’t worry that it might sound heavy on social issues, there’s plenty of the legendary Glasgow banter to make you smile too.

download (6)download (5)Karen was appearing alongside Kerry Hudson who was talking about her book, Tony Hogan Bought Me and Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. I blogged about Kerry’s event last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Needless to say, Kerry was just as interesting and entertaining this time too and I’d highly recommend her debut novel which tells the story of a traumatic childhood but in a funny and heart-warming read. And I’m looking forward to reading her next novel, Thirst which will be published early in 2014.

imagesdownloadWe also went to see Louise Welsh and Maggie O’Farrell to hear about their new books. I’m a massive Maggie O’Farrell fan and can’t wait to get stuck into her new book, Instructions for a Heatwave which is a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the heatwave of 1976. Maggie specialises in writing about dysfunctional families, and from the snippet she read, the Riordans sound as if they have their fair share of troubles. During the Q and A session, Maggie was witty and very inspiring about the writing process, especially when she quoted Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With two novels written and neither of them published, this certainly struck a chord with me!

download (2)download (3)Louise’s latest, a psychological crime thriller, The Girl on the Stairs also interests me as it is set in Berlin, a city I visited a couple of years ago and found it a fascinating place. The taster she read out gave us a glimpse of the main character, Jane, a Scot living in Berlin who decides to turn detective and this has devastating results when her own past collides with the past of the building and its inhabitants.

Aye Write! was as good as ever this year with three interesting events, four top authors and two great meals out with my best pal (my love of eating out might help explain why I’m unable to run a marathon or even just run at all!).  The book festival is on until April 20th so maybe I could squeeze in another event or two…

What’s your favourite book festival? Which writers have inspired you at book events?

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover

It’s a cliché but so true. Whether or not I try to convince myself that I’m open-minded about my reading choices, there’s no doubt that I’m as biased as the next person when it comes to making a split second decision on whether a book is for me or not based on a quick glance at the cover.

Since finishing my MLitt course and enjoying not being tied to a uni reading list, I’ve deliberately picked out books that are a bit lighter in tone. However, I draw the line at chick lit with candy pink covers as I’ve never been a fan of fluffy story-lines involving girl meets boy whilst strutting around in stilettos and carrying designer handbags, fate stops them getting together, blah, blah, blah, they finally become a couple and live happily ever after. The End.

That’s why I would have placed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes  back on the shelf. The artwork screams of formulaic chick lit. And yet I kept reading great reviews about this book and curiosity got the better of me (although I won’t be using that excuse to ever read Fifty Shades of Grey!).

The plot doesn’t sound like your usual chick lit scenario and I wondered if the issue of the right to die would be given the proper treatment. I wasn’t disappointed. The relationship between the main characters, Will a quadriplegic and his carer, Louisa are very sensitively played out and they quickly became engaging characters that I cared about- the ultimate wish a writer has for their readers. And the proof of this was that I ended up blubbing at the end of the book. I can’t remember the last time I cried after reaching the climax of a book and for me this is a huge indication of the quality of the writing that it can create emotion in someone as cynical as me.

At the end of the book, there’s a Q and A section with Jojo which I found very interesting. She admits that she was wary of writing about such a controversial topic but the bit that struck a chord most with me was when she said, “you have to write the book that is burning inside you”. Right now, I’m not 100% sure that my WIP is THE story that I should tell. I’m listening to advice from my unofficial writing mentor, Karen Campbell to put it to one side for now and to write something for sheer pleasure rather than pursing an on-going project just because I feel that I’m obliged to finish it. I’m hoping to find my ‘voice’ again and maybe also discover the story I NEED to tell, whether that’s the current WIP or something entirely new. Maybe I’ll  even open my mind to other genres…

So will I read more of Jojo Moyes? Possibly on the strength of Me Before You. Will I discount other books with pink covers? Probably, because despite this positive experience, deep down, there’s still a bit of the book snob in me. Have you ever misjudged a book by its cover?

Meet my Writing Mentor- Karen Campbell

This week, as a change from me blabbing on about my ‘writing’ experience, I thought it would be a welcome break to hear from a professional writer (who just happens to be a good pal too) and has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out!  This guest interview is a first for my blog (and possibly the last as I don’t have any other author friends to ask!) and I was able to grill chat with Karen Campbell when she stayed at my house after speaking at Falkirk library as part of their ‘Write Good Murders’ author visits.

Karen and I met 18 years ago when I worked at Glasgow City Council and I wanted to go job-share after having my first son. Karen was my other, some might say, better half. We made an odd-looking couple for the years we worked together with Karen being slim and 5 foot ten without heels and me, being anything but slim and a mere 5 foot nothing.  Despite the fact that we worked on different days, we became close friends and when Karen left the Council to become a full-time writer I followed her progress with envy  pride.  She is an award-winning Scottish writer of contemporary fiction and so far, her novels have been inspired by her time spent as a policewoman in Glasgow’s notorious ‘A’ division, but her fifth novel, due to be published in 2013, breaks away from the police series.

Karen has been my unofficial writing mentor for years now and (because I’m so generous) I wanted to share some of her words of wisdom with you.

Karen, you did the MLitt at Glasgow University; do you believe that creative writing can be taught? Or have I just wasted £3,400+?

When I started the course, I thought we’d get sessions on ‘how to write a novel’ and ‘ideas for plot’ and all that kind of stuff – and I remember feeling quite confused when that didn’t happen. We seemed to be learning by osmosis – listening to established writers talk about their craft, working in small peer-led editorial groups, and so on. Very quickly though, I realised the MLitt was more about giving you the space, inspiration and, crucially, confidence to find – and use – your voice; the voice you already had, but that needed coaxed out of you.  A special mention has to go to my tutor Prof Willy Maley, whose enthusiasm and attention to detail is brilliant. Many writers in Scotland have cause to thank him, I reckon.

What advice would you give other wannabe writers like me who are just starting out?     

Don’t try to second guess the ‘market’. Write without constraints and without hesitation. Let your mind take you anywhere it wants to go, write middle chunks of stories, do the end before the start, have characters talk to their dead grannies if you want. Just let it flow – you can tidy it up & shape it afterwards. To me, plot is less crucial than character. If you create convincing, interesting people, a story can arise simply from how they spark off each other – in any place or any situation.

Was your journey to publication easy peasy?

Absolutely not. I did a 2 year degree, finally secured an agent towards the end of that, then it was another eighteen months at least  – and many, many knockbacks – before I got a publisher. In the interim, I kept writing, kept sending short stories out to magazines etc, and got bits and pieces published that way. But it’s incredibly hard to keep the faith when you’re sending your ‘child’ out into the world, and folk keep sending it back, saying ‘your wean’s a bit ugly, isn’t it?’

Your new novel, ‘This is Where I am’ comes out next year and is a departure from your successful police series, why did you decide to tackle a new subject area? 

It’s not really a huge departure – I’m still writing about social issues, still writing about Glasgow – it’s just the people in it aren’t cops this time. I’d only ever planned to write 3 or 4 books about the police, and with each one of them, I’ve moved further away from my own experiences anyway. My new book is about asylum seekers & refugees – in particular, how removed the face you present to the world can be from the real ‘you’ inside. When I think about it, that’s exactly what the police books were about too.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m about two-thirds through a novel set in Argyll. It’s about standing stones and wind farms and has a cast of thousands, which I’ll need to whittle. But I’m letting them all have their say at the moment, before the cull begins.

Are you a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

Ah – as you well know, I was the brains behind our partnership (yeah, right, whatever you say!), so it may surprise you to learn that I’m definitely a fly-by-the-seat kind of girl when it comes to writing. You can plot backwards as well as forwards, filling in gaps or tightening up threads as your story emerges. Often, it’s only when you’re drawing to the end of a piece of writing that you truly ‘know’ what it’s about.

How many drafts do you do before you send a novel off to your agent/editor? 

I tend to edit as I go, then do a final sweep for continuity, pace and so on at the end. So it’s technically a second draft that I send, although it will have been revised as it’s being written.

What is your best writing tip?

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If you’re struggling, give yourself a word count to hit every day & make yourself sit down & do it – even if you’re just writing about the emotion you’re feeling at that moment. From that, you might only get a phrase or a piece of description, but you might get something brilliant.  Exercise your creative brain like you would any other muscle. I once got a whole short story out of the gungy feeling of picking meat off a chicken.

And your worst writing habit?

Oh, procrastination, like many writers. I can faff for Scotland.

Best moment in your writing career so far?

When an agent, then an editor, said they believed in my writing. These were professional people, who – unlike your mum – didn’t have to say they liked it. My new book is coming out with Bloomsbury, and that’s been a huge thrill too, to move to such a prestigious publisher. Just saying the name ‘Blooms-burry’ – I get pretty excited about that.

What book do you wish you’d written? 

Of books read recently-ish, I’d say ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell –brilliantly inventive structure.

Who is your favourite writer, alive and dead?

Loads – Jane Austen, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, AS Byatt, Virginia Woolf, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Janice Galloway.  I love writers who make language sing.

Do you have a writing routine?

Not really. I tend to write in the day rather than evening. At the moment, my best stuff seems to come in the morning, when I’m still a bit dopey. Don’t know what that says about me…

What book(s) are on your beside table right now?

‘The Gate at the Stairs’ by Lorrie Moore & ‘Black Mamba Boy’ by Nadifa Mohamed, which my lovely agent Jo sent me.

What’s the weirdest question you’ve been asked at a reading?

Well, the most recent wasn’t so much a question as a comment from a nice old gent who’d been nodding & staring intently at me for most of the reading. After, I was told he thanked the organisers & said he’d been ‘much taken’ – by my cleavage…Which, let’s face it, isn’t what it used to be.

Thanks Karen!

You can buy Karen’s books here and as Mrs Doyle would say to Father Ted,”Ah go ongo ongo ongo on……” 

Writing and the Dangers of Cabin Fever

Wednesday the 25th was a big day for famous literary birthdays. Robert Burns, William Somerset Maughan and Virginia Woolf all share the same birthday.  I saw one of Woolf’s well-known quotes, “A room of one’s own” (well I spotted the 75% off sticker first) on a china mug in my local Waterstones. I snapped up the bargain as a wee gift for my good friend, the award-winning novelist, Karen Campbell as she’s been acting as my unofficial mentor for years and purple is her favourite colour.
http://www.karencampbell.co.uk/

I met  Karen for lunch in Glasgow yesterday and as always, it was great to catch up with her news and she gave me some really helpful advice about my WIP. As the saying goes,it’s good to talk. Woolf was right, having somewhere to lock yourself away to get on with your writing is the ideal scenario but what I’ve discovered during this ridiculously long semester break is that I suffer from cabin fever. 
Classes finished at the end of November and it’s been too long a break for me. I haven’t yet reached for the axe but you only have to watch The Shining to remember how dangerous cabin fever can be…


I need to get out of the house regularly. The romantic idea of being locked away in a remote writer’s garret is not for me. There’s not a lot of inspiration to be gained from my view of the petrol station across the road! During the break from uni, I’ve been going to a botanical art class, swimming every other morning, meeting up with friends and working my way through a list of ‘must visit’ places. This week I went to GOMA in Glasgow to have a look round the polymath, Alasdair Gray’s, ‘City Recorder’ exhibition. His paintings of Glasgow life in 1977 are brilliant. It’s hard to believe that one man can be so talented in so many areas. It’s not fair!

Gray has captured the life of the city’s streets and its people

I also had a quick look round the GOMA’s ‘You, Me, Something Else’ exhibition of contemporary sculptures. The idea of the exhibition is to question established assumptions of what a sculpture can be. It certainly achieved its aim as there is no way I’d call a stack of Ryvita boxes or a crumpled pile of plastic sheeting a sculpture! I’m sure all the artwork on display means something, but whatever it does, went right over my head. I wasn’t alone in lacking appreciation for the artwork. A comment in the visitors’ book read,  I’ve lived in Glasgow all my life, so I’ve seen some shite, but this really is shite.” This wasn’t the only derogatory comment and “shite” was a popular word choice!



Over the break, I’ve been writing short stories and everything I’ve written about recently has been triggered by observing and interacting. In my last job, I travelled all over Scotland to visit schools and train teachers. I met new people everyday and I now realise that I need people and places, not just a room of my own, to keep me inspired.