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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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?