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

The Highs and Lows of my Writing Year

1473055_612428212125677_1989818867_nIt’s been an interesting year as far as my writing goes with a couple real yippee moments but also a few harsh kicks in the teeth. I’d hoped that 2013 would be my year and all those hours locked away with my laptop wouldn’t have been better spent watching The Great British Bake Off (at least I might have been able to eat the results of my hard work).

I started 2013 raring to go on my 3rd novel and for the first time I used the ‘freefall’ method. This has its good and bad points with the main bonus being that you quickly get the story down on paper (or screen in my case) so it’s great for keeping up momentum BUT when you finish and begin editing there’s a LOT of work to be done. I naively believed that I’d be able to finish editing by the end of the year but no matter how much I wanted to reach my goal,  I soon realised that my target was unachievable if I wanted to give it my best effort. Patience is a virtue which I don’t possess, I want to get it out there and also I’m keen to develop ideas I’ve had for my next novel (ask any writer, there’s always a next one…).

ups-downs-in-life-278x278Of course, I WILL finish editing at some point (hopefully early in 2014) but annoyingly it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. Because I’ve dedicated my time to the novel, I decided to put writing short stories on hold this year. However, I submitted a story I wrote a while ago and was chuffed to bits to have it published in Gutter magazine. That was no2 in my top highlights of the year as I’d been unsuccessful in my previous submission and to have a piece in Gutter is to be in prestigious writing company.

Midsummer, it felt like it was all happening! The no1 high of my writing year had to be making the shortlist of the Hookline Novel Competition.  I was skipping round my bedroom singing The Only Way is Up (takes me back to hearing Yazz played on a constant loop in Kavos in 1988). It was an anxious wait to see if my last novel would be selected by book groups to be published by Hookline but unfortunately the bubble burst. I didn’t make it so it was a bittersweet high that became the no2 low of my writing year.

And the no1 low? Being unsuccessful in my application for the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award, making the shortlist might have taken the edge off the disappointment but that didn’t happen either. The standard knock-back states that, “due to the high volume of applications we are unable to give individual feedback.” This is frustrating because this was my second attempt and I’m none the wiser as to how I could improve my chances next time.

imagesAnd will there be a next time? If the truth be told that despite positive experiences with Hookline, Gutter, Paragraph Planet and inspiration from seeing other wannabe writers succeed, I’m at an all-time low as far as my hope of achieving a career as a writer. I first blogged about my writing journey in 2011 when I began my MLitt course but I was on the long and winding route years before uni. I’d already been on two Arvon courses, written three novels, had a handful of stories published and yet although I’ve made progress, I’m wondering if being a published novelist will ever happen. What’s a girl (okay, forty something woman) to do???

When the latest rejection hit home there was a lot of, “Why am I bothering?” moans and groans. It’s not easy to constantly bounce back and keep telling yourself (and try to convince family and friends that you’re not delusional) that it’ll happen one day and maybe this latest novel is the ONE.

It took my hubby to point out that I was always writing the novel for me, for pleasure, not to win an award, a competition or even get published. The man talks sense. Seeking external approval is not why I started writing in the first place and it’s why I’ll keep going, no matter how many knock-backs 2014 brings…

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Entering the Dragons’ Pen

download (1)It’s always great to be a witness to a pal’s success and I was lucky enough to find myself back at the Glasgow Women’s Library to cheer on my fellow MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith at the Dragons’ Pen event.

downloadEthyl was one of eight finalists (she’s so talented that she made it to this stage last year) who had interpreted the theme of ‘Illuminate’ and written a short story of a maximum of 1000 words. The finale of the competition was for Ethyl to read her story, ‘Seein’s Believin’, aloud to an audience and four literary judges.

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Ethyl feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

To say that I was in awe of Ethyl’s confidence is an understatement. To put yourself and your writing out there and up for criticism is not for the faint hearted. Respect!

I listened to Ethyl read her piece and wondered if I’d ever get the chance and be brave enough to do a reading of my work. The irony is that although my ‘day job’ is delivering training sessions involving me talking to large groups of people for a full day you would assume that I’d be comfortable with public speaking. And yet I would still be nervous about reading my work in public. The reason is that it would be my work and there would be nothing to hide behind.

So it seems I have an issue to overcome. I wouldn’t describe myself as shy, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an extrovert either and an article I came across called, 23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert struck a chord.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/introverts-signs-am-i-introverted_n_3721431.html

imagesClick on the link to see if you’re an innie or an outie.

And contrary to the perception of even my close friends and family, I identified with several of the indicators, in particular number 8 and of course number 22.

But although I believe that I’m more an introvert than extrovert, if I’m ever successful in achieving my dream of being a published writer then one day, hopefully soon, I’ll have to face my fear and share my words. But I’m grateful that I’ve had Ethyl to lead the way.

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The Mither Tongue

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Ethyl and I graduating with our MLitt in Creative Writing from Stirling University.

Last week I met up with ma good pal and former MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith tae talk books and writing. We spent 5+ hours blethering without drawing breath and one of the many topics we covered was writing in  Scots.

downloadRecently, the bestselling children’s book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson was translated into Scots by James Robertson and this has been followed by The Gruffalo’s Wean, a Scots version of The Gruffalo’s Child.  I think this is a brilliant move tae make sure Scottish children are aware of their mither tongue.

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This blog is not about politics but it’s impossible tae ignore the fact that in less than a year, I will be voting in the Independence Referendum. And how will I vote? I’ll vote with ma heart, not ma heid. I don’t know a lot about the economic arguments for and against independence but I do know that I’ve always considered myself as Scottish, not British.

I think this strong sense of Scottish identity and pride in ma heritage might explain ma fascination with the language of ma birth. I love Scots words like glaikit, dreich and scunner.

This wee clip of Nicola Swankie’s 50 Favourite Weird Scottish Words made me smile. How many do you use or recognise?

But although when I’m writing I like tae include Scots words in dialogue, tae write the entire text in Scots requires expertise and skill. Ethyl has written many pieces in old Scots and I’ve asked her tae share her experience.

Can you tell us why you enjoy writing in your mither tongue?

It seems more natural way to express my thoughts. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents who spoke broad Scots… so it’s like being grounded I guess.

Do you find it harder tae write in Scots?

Naw. Weel if ah’m strecht wi ye it’s the spellin. Scots is mair in the lug if ye git ma drift. Ay is ‘yes’. Aye with the extra e maks ‘always.’ You need to listen to hear the difference.images (2)

What advice would you give writers who’d like tae try writing in Scots?

First listen. The rhythm and cadence is different, even the word order. Also get yourself a good dictionary Scots-English & vice versa.

Whose writing would you recommend as a good example of writing in Scots?

John Galt … old fashioned but great writing. Alan Bissett for emphasis on modern slang. James Robertson is very respectful of its useage.

Here’s a sample of Ethyl’s writing and you can see why I’ve got so much respect for her talent as a writer.

Nae Way Back

Whit fur did ah dae this? Whit makt me think it wud be aw richt? Aifter aw ah’m nae glaikit. Weel nae fur ordnar. Wan thing fur shair it’s the straicht an narra frae noo on. An nae argiein.

Tae tell the truth ah did think ah wis raither smairt. Aifter aw ah din it aw masel. Me an ma big ego. Naw. Mair lik me an ma big heid.

If the Yoge maister hudna sayed ah wis his best pupil, mibbe ah wudna hae mindit doddlin alang lik the rest o the cless. Ye see, maist o thaim canna levitate at aw. But therr ah wis, clear o the flair, an floatin lik a dream; an ah kent they wur jeelous whan they saw me dain it week aifter week, wi nae wauchle.

Mind ye the Yoge did say it wis jist fur cless. Whaur he cud kep an eye lik.

Ah shuda taen tent, an no allooed masel tae git cairrit awa wi ma ain consait. Bit naw. Ah jist hud tae gang that bit faurer, an try a fu, oot o boddy expairience, on ma ain.

An it wisna sair. An extra hauf hoor’s meditation, twa extra mantras, an ah wis awa as nice as ye like, an heidin up here tae the ceilin.

Problem is ah’m here yit. An aw the time ah’m seein masel. At least ah can see ma boddy, doon therr streetched oot on the bed, as if ah’m sleepin. Bit ah’m nae. Ah’m up here, fashin aboot gittin doon agane, fur ah forgot tae luk thon bit up in ma manual, an it’s ower late noo. Talk aboot bein wice aifter the event. An talk aboot bein feart. Ay … ah shud … ah shud nivver hae sterted this. 

Thanks Ethyl, that was a braw wee tale.

Have you tried writing in Scots or any other native language? Do you enjoy reading work in Scots? Is there a favourite writer you admire who writes in Scots?

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Roddy Doyle’s Jimmy Rabbitte is Back

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Chuffed to get my mitts on a copy of Gutter magazine.

images (1)I’d like to think of myself as being strong-minded but I’ve never claimed to be physically strong. And yet, I was able to drag a man of 15 stone to Edinburgh yesterday for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival (although the incentive of going for a meal and a visit to the NTS’s  Georgian House made him less resistant).

This year was especially exciting for me as I got the buzz of walking into the on site bookstore and seeing a book which featured one of my short stories on the shelf. I’m very proud to be in the latest edition of Gutter magazine along with a stellar line-up of Scottish writers. But the main reason I hauled my hubby to the EIBF was to see one of my all-time favourite writers – Roddy Doyle.

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My favourite one of the EIBF deckchairs. The Alexander McCall Smith quote is so very true!

Coming from a working class background myself, Roddy’s work appeals to me both as a reader and as a writer. I have the utmost admiration for his affectionate writing about family life, together with a dry sense of black humour that is conveyed to the reader mostly through the use of dialogue.

In 1993 Roddy won the Booker Prize for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. The book was praised for Doyle’s ability to write convincingly in the language of his main protagonist, Paddy Clarke: a ten-year-old boy living in Dublin in the 1960s. I reread this book as part of my ‘Reading Journal’ for my MLitt course and was blown away by his skill.

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Ireland’s master storyteller.

In a first person narration, Paddy describes things in a childlike manner and this makes the writing simple and yet so effective. “The jellyfish was still floating there, like a runny umbrella.”

Genius!

The relevance of the title of the novel only becomes apparent at the very end when Paddy suffers from the social repercussion of his parents’ breakup with the loss of friendships. When his former friends taunt him with jeers of, “Paddy Clarke- Paddy Clarke- has no da. Ha ha ha!” you cannot fail to be moved. Even more poignant is when Paddy is forced to mature beyond his years, “I didn’t listen to them. They were only kids.” It’s a brilliant book along with another one of my favourites,  The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

imagesAnd now, 26 years after he wrote The Commitments, Roddy Doyle has written a sequel to his bestselling Barrytown Trilogy with The Snapper and The Van. He has returned to Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, manager of The Commitments in the original book, to create a new story set in modern-day Dublin. In this opening night event he introduced us to The Guts and I doubt fans will be disappointed. Roddy’s wit is as sharp as ever and he had the audience in stitches with his patter.

I can’t wait to read it!

Is Roddy Doyle one of your favourite writers too? Do you find that your own social background draws you to particular writers?

 

Mustang Sally‘ must be one of the most murdered songs at family weddings and karaoke nights. But go on, click on the link, you know you want to… Give it laldie!

“Listen!
All you wanna do is ride around Sally
(Ride Sally, ride)”

Freefall Writing

imagesAlthough I think of myself as a creative person, I’m also a self-confessed control freak who likes order, routine and structure. That’s why it felt good this week when I hit my first milestone in my current WIP. Getting to 20k words is quarter way through an average 80k word novel so I already feel that I’ve bitten off a decent chunk of the story.

Even when I was writing full-time during my MLitt course, I’ve never written as much in a matter of weeks.  I believe that the main reason why I’ve been so productive is that for the first time ever, I’m following a writing technique known as ‘Freefall Writing’.

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I didn’t realise that there was a label for my new approach until I read a blog post by Sandra Jensen on the Mslexia website and it described the way I’ve been writing recently. Sandra writes about her experience of Freefall which was originated by W.O. Mitchell and developed further by Barbara Turner-Vesselago.

Freefall writing is defined as, “a method some writers discover spontaneously, but many have to (re)earn : the technique of writing from the larger Self beyond reach of the ego and its censors” and is likened to writing without a parachute.

This is a very different style from my usual method of revising as I go along but it often means that I get so caught up in fine tuning every sentence, that the momentum of the storytelling dies. When I decided to start a new novel, I was apprehensive that the plot wouldn’t be strong enough, the characters would be too dull, the themes would be too weak…, you get the picture.

images (3)And then I stopped beating myself up and decided to write without worrying about getting it right on every level. It’s a FIRST draft so I have to lighten up and write freely, without the fear of failing.

I’m convinced that’s why the words are flowing. I know eventually I’ll resort to my default perfectionist setting when I get to the end and accept that the WIP needs edited. But right now I’m learning to let go. The polishing process can come later…

Have you tried Freefall writing? Would this approach work for you or do you constantly edit as you write?

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Santa’s Best Pressie

images (2)This time last year, I blogged that all I wanted for Christmas was a big enough ego to call myself a writer. I must’ve been a good girl as the big man in the red suit with the white beard delivered and I’ve come a long way in my writing journey.

At the start of 2012, I had never been published and felt too shy to use the title ‘writer’ to describe myself. I felt that I needed an external endorsement to validate the claim and I got it in the form of several of my flash fiction pieces and short stories being published online, in anthologies and short listed in competitions. It’s not easy putting your work out there and I still have to work at fighting the self-doubt about how I’ll be judged based upon my writing. But like everything else in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Probably the most exciting high for me was hearing my story read out by a professional actress at the National Galleries of Scotland, ‘Inspired? Get Writing!’ event (there’s still time to enter this year’s competition deadline is 18/1/13). To hear words I’d written getting a laugh from the audience is a buzz I won’t forget in a hurry.  And it reminds me of one milestone that I still have to achieve, and that’s to read out my work in public. Of course, that requires me to keep submitting work which at the moment is pretty non-existent. But I’m hoping that 2013 will get me back on track with an ongoing submission schedule.

Completing my masters definitely gave me a huge boost and incentive to prove that I didn’t waste time and money on a writing qualification. It also provided me with an opportunity to take the time to find out who I am as a writer and where I want to go with my writing. And of course that would still be to fulfil the dream of a traditional publishing deal.

imagesBut it hasn’t all been success after success in 2012. The biggest and most painful blow was learning that having an agent doesn’t guarantee a book deal. To come close but not close enough hurts like hell.  But in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” and the feedback I got from publishing editors will hopefully help to make my writing stronger.

543979_10200142443186502_1168765060_nAnother kick in the teeth was a complete knock-back from the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. I knew the odds against getting anywhere with it were high but I was still praying that I would be one of the lucky ones (congratulations to my fellow MLitt student, Angela Hughes who made the shortlist-yeh!).

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Chuffed to have my writing in Octavius, Causeway, Valve, New Voices Press & Paragram.

And of course throughout the year, there was a series of lesser “ouch” moments when submissions to literary journals and competition entries got nowhere.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m still on my agent’s books and I’ve got a MLitt to add to my name as well 6 pieces in a clutch of 5 mighty fine anthologies with my work featured.  So thank you Santa, I got what I asked for and more!

P.S. Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits CD would be much appreciated in case I need a reminder that, “What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter…” And I promise not to sing it out loud! Well, maybe just in my car when I’m driving alone…