Playing a Part in Book Week Scotland

I’m a reader first, writer second.

As such, I’m a huge fan of Book Week Scotland, organised by the Scottish Book Trust as a week-long celebration of books and reading that takes place every November. In previous years, I’ve attended events and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to hear some of my favourite writers talking about their books. So to be involved with the programme as a writer this year is for me nothing short of brilliant!

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Sharing tales of being an Avon lady in the 80s.

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Blast from the past!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had two Book Week Scotland events in my diary. The first one was at my local library in Kilsyth. I’ve been to loads of author talks and the usual format is readings and a Q & A. I decided to try something a wee bit different for my events. My day job is to train teachers and for this I use PowerPoint slides to convey my message, this is my comfort zone and as a visual learner myself I like images to help illustrate an idea. For my events I used PowerPoint to provide a pictorial backdrop to my talk with images of my writing ‘journey’ and pictures of the setting of Talk of the Toun. I also brought along 80s memorabilia to prompt nostalgia for the era or introduce nippers to the joys of Jelly shoes.

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Book banter with Alan Bissett.

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Impressed that the library supplied my ‘rider’ of Irn Bru to prevent a diva meltdown. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other Book Week Scotland event was a double-bill with my fellow Falkirk writer, Alan Bissett and we both read and talked about Alight Here, the anthology of writing related to Falkirk. The theme of my story is identity and what makes you feel like a ‘bairn’, someone born and bred in the area., with my story, Today’s Special at the York Café’.

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Cathy very graciously asked me to sign her copy of Talk of the Toun.

Tblue-trees_0he finale of the week for me was a trip to Wester Hailes Library in Edinburgh to hear Cathy Rentzenbrink talk about her memoir, A Last Act of Love.  On Twitter, loads of folk were raving about this moving account of Cathy’s family coming to terms with a horrific accident involving her younger brother Matty and its heartbreaking aftermath. It didn’t sound like a cheery read and I wasn’t sure I fancied reading it but I’m so glad I wasn’t put off as it’s most definitely not a misery memoir.

Despite the dire situation the family finds themselves in, there’s still space for gentle humour and most of all brutal honesty which makes it a book worth reading to celebrate family love. Hearing Cathy talk about her book and love of reading was inspirational. I gifted a copy of Talk of the Toun to Cathy and it would be a dream come true to think that she might enjoy it as much as I loved her book.

Did you attend any Book Week Scotland events?  If you did, who did you see?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing my writing has been a MASSIVE privilege and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to meet readers and be in a library as a reader AND a writer.

 

 

Walking with Words

If there’s a cultural event locally and It’s free then I’m all over it like a rash. The idea of ‘Walking with Words’ to combine image, word play and local heritage on a walk along the Forth and Clyde Canal sounded like the perfect way to spend a sunny September morning.

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Walk a mile in his horseshoes…

imagesThe walks are the brainchild of the Reader in Residence at Falkirk Libraries(a post funded by the Scottish Book Trust), Jan Bee Brown who invited the participants to “snap and natter, tweet and twitter, hike and haiku” to explore the theme of transformation.  The context for the event was set by an informative pre-walk presentation by local historian Geoff Bailey who used vintage maps and images to compare and contrast the past and present landscape around Falkirk and its connection to the ‘Great Canal’.

Fired up to see the ‘after’ of the area which oozes industrial heritage our intrepid group hit the streets of Falkirk to navigate from the town centre along to Lock 16 before finishing at the Falkirk Wheel.

On the way to the iconic landmark, Jan encouraged the group to look at the area with fresh eyes, as if we were viewing the canal through the eye of Falkirk’s newest tourist attraction, the Kelpies, modelled on the type of Clydesdale horse which once trod the tow paths.

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Falkirk’s very own Banksy!

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Power to the People!

The thing that struck me most was how the area had changed since I was at high school.  In my novel, Talk of the Toun, the main characters go to St Paddy’s High School, based on St Mungo’s High School in Falkirk.  One of the opening scenes describes the two main characters ‘dogging’ (truanting – not the meaning dogging has in the contemporary sense!) school and taking a shortcut to the town centre via the ‘Bleachy’.

Today, the area has been redeveloped as an industrial zone but this was how I remembered it and described it in my novel. Here’s the extract…

The Bleachy gave me the heebie-jeebies and I’d never walked it alone even in daylight hours. Mr Stanners told us in our first year History class that the land opposite our school was once used as a bleach field to let cloth dry out in the sun. It was hard to imagine anything in the area being clean and bright these days. The Bleachy was now a maze of boxy concrete buildings with corrugated iron flat roofs and lock-up garages. Round every corner, mad dogs strained on their leash until their mouths foamed if you dared go near the yards of the garages and workshops that lined the muddy path. We called them Bandeath dugs; they were usually a cross between an Alsatian and a wolf and they came from the Bandeath dog shelter in Stirling. No one in their right mind would buy a dog that looked as pig ugly as these brutes. They weren’t pets; Bandeath dugs were tougher than night club bouncers.

The puddles along the Bleachy were always oily and rubbish piled up in corners like multi-coloured snow drifts. It wasn’t the devil dogs and the filth that freaked me out. The Bleachy was always dark, even on a sunny day and then there would be the men on their tea breaks, overalls rolled down to their waist, greasy thumb and index finger holding a fag between them and blowing smoke rings.

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Maw, Paw and the weans.

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Falkirk figures – Robert Barr, the man who gave Scotland its other national drink – Irn-Bru along with Dr Harold Lyon founder of Strathcarron Hospice.

Halfway along the route, Jan suggested we stop at a set of benches beside public art that I didn’t even know existed prior to the walk and she suggested that we write any words or phrases that popped into our minds. Some of my jottings included ‘transformational change’, ‘same but different’ and ‘coming and going’. Not exactly profound statements but who knows how the walk will fuel my writing once my brain has downloaded the sights and sounds.

This was the first of a series of ‘Walking with Words’ events and if you’re in the Falkirk area I’d highly recommend them to find all the inspiration you need on the hoof. You can book a place here.

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Any relation to Lady Gaga?

Do you find walking stirs your creative juices? Which walks are sensory rich for you?

Ta Dah! The Cover Reveal for Talk of the Toun

This post has been a long time coming and over the years I often wondered if I’d ever be published and get the chance to do a ‘Cover Reveal’.  It was a goal that kept me motivated beyond rejections and the many months it took to shape my novel. To think that one day I could walk into Waterstones and spot my book cover on the shelf has been a dream that ThunderPoint will make happen when it’s launched this October.

For me, one of the most exciting parts of the journey to publication has been the cover design. I know as a reader how easy it is to dismiss a book on a fleeting glance and there are many examples of utter howlers out there.  Be warned, click on ‘Kindle Cover Disasters’ and I guarantee that you will cringe! The importance of a great cover is well documented and Scottish Book Trust recently blogged about the ‘Death of the Book Cover: Do Covers Really Matter?’  They matter to me!

Reading this post sent a shiver down my spine. I wanted not to like my cover but to LOVE it! It had to be a striking image and one that in an instant made a statement about the contents. One of the benefits of being with a small independent publisher is that it’s a tight-knit partnership. There’s no faceless marketing department to deal with so that as each of the draft covers were up for discussion I was comfortable giving my feedback, knowing that ThunderPoint want me to be happy with the cover and proud to promote it (another cringe warning – I plan to be in lots of photos posing with the book!). I also feel lucky as I’m well aware that many authors who are signed by big publishing houses often get no input into their cover design and might not like the final result.

As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and I desperately wanted to feel sure that the final design was THE ONE so I bounced ideas around with my pal Anne until finally, after several drafts, (thanks for your patience ThunderPoint!) we had the image of the poodle with sunglasses.

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In the book, the main character’s gran has a poodle called Bimbo.  The gran and her dog are like a comedy double act in this coming-of-age story.  But the quirky image says much more than a direct link to a scene in the book.  A key theme of the novel is ‘identity’ and how aged seventeen you need to explore who you are and sometimes have to fight against social expectations to explore your aspirations. It’s easy to hide behind sunglasses but you can also reinvent yourself to follow a new direction in life.

I hope you love the cover as much as I do and in the build up to the launch I’ll be sharing writing and book news on my new author Facebook page so please ‘like’ it if you want to keep updated.

What’s your favourite book cover? Do book cover designs influence your reading choices?

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

From Page to Stage

There’s lots of advice online about reading your work in public and one of my writer friends, Suzanne Egerton has shared her top tips which are well worth a read.

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The quirky venue for the course was Scottish Storytelling Centre includes the historic John Knox House on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.

But there’s nothing to beat face-to-face training and I was lucky enough to gain a place on the Performance and Presentation Course organised by the Scottish Book Trust with the aim of bringing a writer’s work to life, perform better and overcome nerves.

As someone who has a book due to be published next year, I want to make the most of any readings and events I have to promote my writing to engage better with my audience. There’s no hiding place these days, festivals and literary events are now an important part of promoting your work and a great way of connecting with your audience so it’s crucial to get yourself and your writing out there.

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Although my day job involves public speaking, that doesn’t mean that I felt I’d nothing to learn. And I was right. The course was excellent and I now have a LOT to work on to improve my performance.

Alex Gillon is an experienced voice coach who has worked extensively in theatre, television and film and she shared the benefit of her expertise with us by critiquing our performance. The feedback was brutally honest and not for anyone lacking a thick skin. But Alex’s ‘tough love’ style was highly effective as all seven of us made noticeable progress and eventually earned a hard-won “better” from Alex.

download (1)My main weakness was adding false beats in the text and pausing where there was no full stop or comma. Breathing properly from the abdomen to fuel the voice was a key point for all of us and Alex also emphasised the importance of appropriate body language.

One issue I addressed with Alex is my apprehension to read out the swear words and non-PC terms in my writing for fear of offending an audience. Alex’s advice was to commit to the words from my novel and give them the power they deserve as if there’s no heart in my delivery, there’s no truth. Thanks to Alex I can now say the ‘F’ word with far more impact, a skill I never expected to achieve! The key message I will take from the course was Alex repeatedly reminding us that, “they’re your words, use them!”

The added bonus of the course was that for the second week in a row, I met other lovely writers, in particular, Clare Archibald, a kindred spirit I ‘know’ from Twitter but haven’t managed to cross paths in real life until now. I also enjoyed meeting Stephen Shirres who is the chair of the West Lothian Writers group and Lindsay Littleson who won the Kelpies Prize for her children’s novel, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean! which will be published early next year.

Do you enjoy reading your work aloud in public? Have you received professional training to help develop your performance? What’s your top tip for a great performance?

 

 

 

The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get…

magcover63I’m a subscriber to the excellent Mslexia magazine and look forward to it dropping through the letter box every quarter. I always find something of interest but sometimes a particular article really stands out and it’s easy to kid myself on that it was written purely for my benefit.

The feature that spoke to me directly was ‘First, Stalk Your Agent…’ written by Sarah Hilary, a writer I follow on Twitter. In the piece, Sarah describes her relentless pursuit of securing representation by her ideal literary agent – Jane Gregory. The gist of it is that Sarah worked hard, really hard, to respond to feedback from Jane, to raise her profile on social media, to put herself and her work out there and she continued to write and rewrite until her efforts resulted in representation and having her debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin published in the UK, later this year in the US and the rights sold to six other countries.

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Jammy! An understandable reaction to a success story like Sarah’s except it wasn’t down to luck. Sarah feels that it was stamina that bagged her an agent and a book deal, “If we believe too much in luck, we might neglect the hard work that’s far more vital to success”.

The reason Sarah’s words appeared so personal to me was that her outlook mirrored my recent application to the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award. I hate having to ‘sell’ myself in applications and although I take my writing seriously, I try not to take myself too seriously so in the opening lines of my personal statement, I’ve also considered the role of luck.

If I said that I hoped it would be a case of ‘third time lucky’ in my attempt to receive a New Writers Award, it would imply that I’m superstitious.

For the record, I do not: own a rabbit’s foot, search for four-leafed clovers, have a horseshoe nailed above my door, avoid walking under a ladder… you get the picture, ask anyone who knows me, I’m too cynical to believe in all that hocus pocus guff.

Another issue that needs clarification is that by referring to my application as ‘third time lucky’ I commit the crime of using a cliché in my writing, which would suggest that I am lazy and show a lack of originality in thinking.

Once again, it’s easy for me to refute these characteristics. Years of commitment prove, beyond doubt, that I could never be described as lazy as I’ve written three novels and if my writing is worthy of publication in Gutter literary magazine then it must be original.

So I’m unrepentant in my use of the ‘third time lucky’ phrase (here’s another cliché – ‘rules are made to be broken’) but I would never rely on luck, whether I believe in it or not, as the reason for a successful application. A recipient of a SBT award needs to be justified through hard facts.

10615523_717819518287446_5539425465759396936_nI can demonstrate that if lazy isn’t an appropriate word to describe me, tenacious is accurate. How else could you describe someone who has relentlessly pursued their writing ambitions for almost ten years?

My application rambles on with a list of reasons why I might be considered worthy but the common denominator is determination. Since applying, like Sarah, I’ve literally put myself and my words out there and read aloud at Woo’er With Words organised by Untitled for the second time. I actually felt more nervous than my debut at the local spoken word event, mainly because the subject matter of my story was a Catholic POV on sectarianism and it contained a few ‘bad’ words which I wasn’t sure would go down well with the audience.  I lived to tell the tale and the most stressful part was knowing that Eddie, the photographer, was sitting in front of me pointing a camera upwards and would be able to capture several chins on camera.

When I read the Mslexia article, the tone of my application and attitude to achieving my dream sounded so familiar, it could’ve have been written by Sarah. It’s not easy trying to follow Sarah’s example to keep going but I live in hope that one day I’ll also be able to celebrate and share how perseverance won in the end.

How do you keep yourself motivated? Do you believe in luck making the difference between success and failure?

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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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