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

FullSizeRender..............

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!

Hel 1

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!

IMG_1582

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.

 

12112047_10205311691055928_4960777884758412763_n

My MLitt classmates from Stirling University.

nuters

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.

 

Hel 22

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

Hel 20

Sharing the moment with my proud mum and wee sister.

 

FullSizeRenderjjj

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Weegie Wednesday

a.aaa-student-life (1)I’m lucky to be able to work part-time which means that now that my youngest is at Strathclyde uni I’m able to fit in a trip to Glasgow each week to take him for a meal, bring him some treats and slip him some cash (an expensive outing!). Wednesday is usually the day we meet and it dawned on me that maybe I should go along to Weegie Wedneday while I was in Glasgow anyway. (For any non–Scottish readers – Weegie (n) A slang term for a person from Glasgow).

thisoneI’d ‘liked’ the Weegie Wednesday Facebook page ages ago but I’d never got round to attending any of their monthly literacy networking events. Weegie Wednesday provides an opportunity for writers, poets, publishers, booksellers, librarians, creative writing students or anyone else with an interest to get together socially to talk about books, writing and publishing.

When I read that the April event featured Liam Murray Bell and David Ross, it seemed like the perfect chance to finally get my act in gear and get myself to the venue at the Terrace Bar of the Centre of Contemporary Arts.

last-days-of-disco_December-with-quotes-resized-275x423I was particularly intrigued to hear more about David’s debut novel,  The Last Days of Disco . Apart from my publisher, only 5 other folk on the planet have read my novel pre-publication and one of them is Isabel Costello, who recommended I read David’s book as it reminded her of my own novel. I haven’t read the book yet but after listening to David, I can see how it could be compared to mine. His book is set in 1982, mine in 1985, his book is about adolescence, family, music, emerging sexuality and set in a small Scottish town – my book has the same themes and backdrop. Reviews of David’s book also mention the use of humour which is a key element of my writing too so I can’t wait to read David’s book and see if these similarities match up. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to talk to David in person at Weegie Wednesday but if his presentation was anything to go by I’m sure I’ll love his writing.

The other guest speaker was Liam Murray Bell. I attended the launch of Liam’s last book, The Busker, and it was interesting to hear him talk again, this time about how he juggles his day job as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling uni (where I did my MLitt) with his own writing.

After inputs from the guest speakers, the idea of Weegie Wednesday is to meet new folk. I’d arrived early for the event and immediately struck up a conversation with a friendly looking face, Catherine Hokin, whose debut historical novel, Blood and Roses, will be published in June. I was joined by two of my MLitt classmates, Angela and Paul, and we soon got chatting to others. I also crossed paths for the second time with Katie White, a screenwriter from Falkirk who has written an award winning film, Middle Man.

To be in the company of interesting friends, old and new, in a pub in Glasgow full of creative types isn’t a bad way to spend a Wednesday night is it?

images

Learning to be a Learner

Two of my friends, Matthew Boyle and Anne Glennie are involved in the Each and Every Dog website. It’s dedicated to exploring what it means to learn, to be educated and to use learning and education to help create a socially just society. Continually learning together should be an opportunity to make the world a better place in which to live.  The site is a forum and magazine to explore practices, ideas and the people that they believe are doing this. Click here to find out more.

Following their recent podcast, they invited listeners to submit a post about something they have found hard about learning, or have struggled with.  I took up the challenge and submitted this post.

After 25 years working in education and training I was comfortable in my role. I knew what I was doing and that I was good at it. This meant a hassle free work life and it would’ve been an easy option to continue spinning round on the hamster wheel. But my job wasn’t fulfilling and as far as expressing my creativity, I was in serious danger of ‘use it or lose it’.  I had two options. I could accept that my job didn’t stimulate me and suck it up or I could pursue my aspirations to be a published (in the traditional sense) writer and go back to uni to study for an MLitt in Creative Writing. I was lucky to have the support of my hubby so I took a deep breath and plunged into life as a mature student.

Being back on campus surrounded by bright young things the same age as my sons was weird. I didn’t know where I was going or how to get tokens to operate the printer or how to upload an assignment digitally. It was all new. It was daunting. It was scary.

IMG (2)Having spent my career training teachers and assessing schools, it felt odd to be the pupil and to concede that I wasn’t the expert in the room. This role reversal was a difficult transition for a control freak like me. I was used to dishing out the feedback and enjoyed the balance of power being in my favour.

A major element of the course was to have my writing ‘workshopped’ by the tutor and others in the class. This was the hardest part of all.  Offering up my words to be ripped apart made me feel very insecure. Was I wasting time and money on the course? Was my writing good enough? I had to learn to take harsh criticism and to decide whether to accept it or reject it. Ultimately, the challenge was to find my writing ‘voice’. I played around with different styles and tone until I found a voice that matched what I wanted to say. 

In my writing, I want to explore issues such as social class and identity and it became apparent that the best way for me to create authenticity was to use Scots dialect. It’s taken me ten years of writing to work out that I want my writing to reflect my working class upbringing in a credible way. My third novel, Talk of the Toun, is due to be published by ThunderPoint in October and will be my debut.  The journey to publication has been a long one with many disappointments and frustrations along the way. But it’s also been fun, exciting and the climax of a lifelong ambition. And however hard it might be, I’ve still got a lot to learn…

Literature, Location and a Landscape Artist

photo.JPG 66

Live anywhere near Falkirk? Then get yourself to this exhibition!

Whenever there’s an exhibition on at the Park Gallery housed within the magnificent Callendar House in Falkirk, I make a point of going along, especially if there’s a walk through talk by the artist. Of course, these events are a hit or a miss but as they’re all free, it’s worth taking a chance.

photo

Ruth articulated her art with passion.

This time, the exhibition was Three Rivers Meet showcasing the work of Scottish landscape artist Ruth Nicol. Going along to hear Ruth describe her art was a gamble that paid off as it was a superb insight into her fabulous work and the inspiration behind her series of paintings.

download

Moffat’s group portrait is an imaginary vision of the major Scottish poets and writers of the second half of the twentieth century gathered around the central figure of Hugh MacDiarmid.

The stimulus for Ruth’s work was Alexander Moffat’s painting ‘Poets’ Pub’ featuring seven great Scottish poets: Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Morgan, Norman McCaig, Sorley MacLean, George Mackay Brown, Robert Gairloch and Ian Crichton Smith. A copy of the painting hangs in the corridor of Stirling University outside one of the rooms my MLitt class met so I was very familiar with the scene. But I’d never considered the location of the poets in relation to their work. Ruth’s impressive landscape paintings depict the various parts of Scotland that were home to the poets, including Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as more remote settlements such as Plockton in the Highlands and Langholm in the Borders.

download (1)

Too hard to choose a favourite but Ruth’s painting of Stromness, Orkney, home to George Mackay Brown blew me away!

The paintings are of epic proportions and define the relationship between the physical locations and how it reflects the social, economic and political context of Scotland. This body of work is even more pertinent considering all of the paintings were completed during 2014, the year of the Independence Referendum and self-reflection.

As I stood back to take in the immense scale, I was able to appreciate not only Ruth’s amazing talent as a landscape artist but also how the environment informs literature. The paintings surge with energy and Ruth has created a powerful connection to Scottish art from the past and present.

Do you find that local landscapes inspire your writing?

 

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.

rejectionslip-795526

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.

conversational

 

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?

 

 

Friends with Benefits (of the literary kind only!)

photo

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.

 

images (2)

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?

download (1)

A Rant and A Rave Review

68676_10151793379311901_1498363292_nDon’t ever invite me to play Candy Crush on Facebook or ask me to write a book review! I like to read reviews but I’ve no desire to write one – it feels too much like an assignment for English homework.

What I do enjoy is going to lots of writer events and blogging about the writer’s work and how it impacted on my own writing. I mention books a lot in this blog (as a writer it would be weird if I didn’t!) but I don’t write extensive book reviews on this blog for a few reasons. The main one is that I know how hard it is to write a novel so I’m reluctant to criticise anyone who has gone the distance and managed to have their writing traditionally published – something I can’t brag about! I’m also wary of making negative comments because I know how hurt I’d feel to read a bad review if I ever did get my novel published (take note book bloggers, if the dream ever comes true I’m more sensitive than I look).images

Of course, no book will please everyone and if I come across a novel I didn’t enjoy (‘enjoy’ being an unsophisticated term I was encouraged not to use during my MLitt course but that’s mainly why I read) I deal with it by not airing my opinion on social media (or make it as tame as possible) and I don’t pass the book on to my pals to read.

opinionI also don’t review books because there are hunners of great blogs specifically for book reviews (Isabel Costello’s On the Literary Sofa is excellent) so why bother trying to compete with an already saturated market? And my blog is not a big hitter (I can only rely on my best pal to read it) so it wouldn’t generate huge book sales for writers anyway. It’s a skill to write a comprehensive balanced review and my ‘Reading Journal’ was the part of the MLitt course I least enjoyed. I do like to reflect on books; privately and with friends but having to analyse a novel in detail and comment on how I engaged with it isn’t something I want to take the time to write about.

images (2)On Fridays, if I remember, I join in with the hashtag #FridayReads on Twitter which is a great way to engage in a bit of chat between chapters with like-minded folk who tweet about what they’re reading on that particular Friday. I’ve picked up a few good recommendations (although my 2014 New Years Resolution apart from the annual ‘lose weight’ plan was to stop buying books until I’ve already read the ones on my To Be Read pile – I’m in denial with that goal as much as my weight problem).

I must’ve been a good girl, or got away with it as Santa was good to me and added another four titles to add to my mountainous TBR pile. One of the books made a big impression on me so I made an exception and went to the very rare effort of writing a brief review on Amazon.

download (1)downloadThe book is Maggie and Me by Damian Barr and it wowed me – a genuine 5/5 stars! I was wary of reading it because it covers the same time period as my own WIP (mid 1980’s) in a very similar setting (small working class Scottish town). I was worried that the subject matter would be too close to the same issues I’m trying to highlight and it might impact on my own style unconsciously. The theme of sectarianism is in my novel too but that’s where the similarity ends (no spoilers here!).  The one thing I do hope to achieve is the authenticity of the narration. Damian’s voice is honest and ultimately inspiring. It was inevitable that the next book I read was never going to beat Maggie and Me no matter how good it was (I won’t name and shame its poor use of stereotypes). I think I’ll struggle to read something else in 2104 as moving, the book captures the gritty reality of growing up in an abusive environment without being a misery memoir and still manages to feature humour from start to finish.

P.S. Unlike some writers who don’t respond on Twitter to a positive tweet about their book or deign to follow a mere reader back, Damian acknowledged my praise and is up for a bit of banter – what’s not to like about the man and his writing? @Damian_Barr