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!

 

That Difficult Second Book…

When a musician has a hit album in the Top 10, it’s inevitable that they will face pressure to produce something equally successful with their next batch of songs. Is it the same for a writer after their début novel has hit the shelves?

download (1)My debut novel, Talk of the Toun, isn’t a best-seller, I didn’t sign a deal for another book and apart from a few friends and family asking me, no one has put me under any pressure to publish another book.  But here’s the thing… I had already written two books before Talk of the Toun was published.

 

You might well ask, if they were any good, then surely they would’ve been published years ago?

turtleclimbsfenceThe second book I wrote (let’s not dwell on my first attempt – it was only for practice!)  nearly did get published; the strength of the writing and concept of the novel secured me a London literary agent. She sent it to the ‘big five’ who gave us feedback along the lines of, “we liked it but didn’t love it enough”. I sent it to the Hookline Novel Competition where book groups read and then vote on the winning novel to be published. My novel made it to the final four in the UK – a bawhair (official unit of measurement for any non-Scottish readers) away from being published!

downloadI sucked up the near misses, went off to do my MLitt course and eventually wrote Talk of the Toun. But in the process of developing my writing ‘voice’, I realised that I still felt passionately about my second novel and I couldn’t let it gather digital dust. After more than five years’ rest, I decided it was time for me and the novel to take ourselves to writing boot camp and knock the manuscript into shape. There was no doubt in my mind that the original plot worked, the difference was I feel that I’m a better writer now, so it was well worth giving the manuscript a proper workout to see if I could take it to the next level.

After months of editing, I am chuffed to say that Buy Buy Baby is fit enough (this metaphor only applies to the book – not me!) to get out there and jog alongside Talk of the Toun. It’s a very different book – one that will show that I don’t just “write what I know” although I do know many women who’re affected by the issues explored in Buy Buy Baby.

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“The proof of the pudding is in the reading.”

Buy Buy Baby is the story of two very different Scottish women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby. But how far are they willing to go to fill the baby-shaped hole in their lives?

Buy Buy Baby will be published later this year by Cranachan Publishing – a new-born publisher based in Scotland.  That’s not the only news I have to share – I am part of the Cranachan team who will be launching Buy Buy Baby as well as working with other writers to give birth to their novels. Call the midwife… it’s an exciting time for me and Cranachan, watch this space!

 

Why We Still Need International Women’s Day

Someone made a comment that my début novel, Talk of the Toun (TOTT) has just about every ‘ism’ featured in it – racism, sectarianism and sexism.  This was not a conscious decision on my part, it was purely to reflect the societal norm of the main characters whose environment is a working class small town in central Scotland in the mid-80s.

downloadWhen I organised a blog tour for TOTT, several of the hosts asked me to take part in a Q &A. This was quite daunting as until the questions popped into my inbox, I’d no idea what they would be and only hoped I’d be able to answer them. Some of them were light-hearted, such as, “Do you have any strange writing habits?” but there was a recurring theme that focussed on the darker issue of women’s sexuality which is explored in TOTT.

I was often asked how I felt about attitudes to women regarding sex and pregnancy and how relevant I felt this was to today’s outlook.

For me as the writer, it was a case of trying to create a realistic situation and use my own memories of the attitudes to sex and pregnancy when I was a teenager in the 80s. Like the main characters, I was brought up as a Catholic and was indoctrinated at school and within the home that to become pregnant, unmarried, would bring shame on the family and scupper any thoughts of further education or a career.

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Image from the anti-abortion film featured in chapter one of Talk of the Toun.

The first chapter in the novel has a scene where the senior pupils are shown a graphic anti-abortion film and this was based on my own experience at school.  Being force-fed these messages meant that sex was equated with fear amongst me and my friends, your worst nightmare was to fall pregnant. I feel that attitudes like those highlighted in the novel are realistic in certain communities at that time and made an impact on how young women grew up to view their bodies and their sexuality. However, although times have changed, I wonder how many other young women are still on the receiving end of negative images and concepts?

Have things improved? As regards female sexuality, in one sense women may feel empowered by the choices available to them nowadays but you only have to examine statistics on the conviction rate for rape to realise so much more needs to be done to address the stigma attached to certain crimes. I’d like to hope that Talk of the Toun might stimulate discussion on this issue and whether or not society is a better place for women in 2016 than it was in 1985.

But until I believe that there’s no need to still talk about it, I will always be an ardent supporter of International Women’s Day!

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2015 – A Year of Highs!

images1486898_544680102355976_7465735477020805205_nAchieving my ambition of being a published novelist has taken 10 years of writing featuring more downs than ups. And many times I questioned my sanity for chasing this dream.

But there’s no point in wasting energy dwelling on the negatives, the main thing is that 2015 was finally the year when Talk of the Toun (TOTT) made the leap from my laptop to readers’ book shelves!

There were many ‘pinch myself’ moments but I’ve narrowed them down to my top 10 (in no particular order)…

  1. Being surrounded by family and friends sharing my excitement at the launch events
  2. Having TOTT featured in national and local newspapers
  3. Seeing my book on the shelf and window of my local branch of Waterstones
  4. Hearing that there was a waiting list to borrow my book at Falkirk library
  5. Being invited as a local author to take part in library events for Book Week Scotland
  6. Getting 5 star reviews from readers
  7. Answering Q&As and writing guest posts for the blog tour
  8. Being selected as one of Naomi Frisby’s ‘books of the year
  9. Having acclaimed writer Jenni Fagan asking to buy a signed copy
  10. Sharing a stage with one of my literary idols – Janice Galloway
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Talk of the Toun’s launch wasn’t national news but it was a BIG deal to me!

I’m sure the buzz will settle down in 2016 but I’ve already got two events in the diary – one east and one west (more details here) to keep the momentum going and I’d love to see my diary with more opportunities to take Bimbo the poodle out and about and meet readers. I’ve also got some exciting ideas to revisit my previous novel, Buy Buy Baby, so it’s a case of watch this space for developments and see if next year shapes up to be as amazing as 2015…

What were your 2015 highlights? Do you have any new projects planned for 2016?

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Untitled Six Live

11220809_937599549642774_3751509928409613059_nIn the build up to Untitled Six Live event (in conjunction with The Grind), one of the promotional posters stated that there were 6 reasons why it was a good idea to buy a ticket.  Just reading the poster made me burst with pride – I’d be sharing a stage with writers I admire AND raising money for charity!

No. 6 is even more significant after reading that there’s been a shocking increase in the number of teenagers turning to Falkirk Foodbank for help.

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Hubby is my unofficial photographer. (photo credit Grandaddy Flash Photography)

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Daring to perform alongside big names in Scottish writing.

Apart from making a mess of my slot, my biggest fear was being star-struck. I’ve met Janice Galloway before, when she led a writing workshop and I’ve heard her speak several times but to be listed on the poster alongside a literary idol was Christmas come early for me. I’m glad to report I lived to tell the tale and was given a generous welcome on and off stage.

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Meeting the one and only Janice Galloway! (photo credit The Grind)

Of course, Janice was as captivating a performer as ever, reading from her evocative short story collection, Jellyfish but the other writers also blew the crowd away.

Being back in his home-town, the audience loved Alan Bissett in the role of ‘Moira’ and his reading of old poems from Falkirk’s archives. A rising star on the spoken word scene is another local, poet John Kennedy, whose performance went down a storm. Unknown to me, poet Maggi Gibson has Falkirk connections and her selection of poems were a perfect mix of politics and dry humour.We were also privileged to have a preview of stunning new poems from Jenni Fagan and if you haven’t read her brilliant novel, The Panopticon, I’d highly recommend it. And to top the night off for me,  Jenni bought a copy of Talk of the Toun which meant a LOT to think she wanted to read my work and I only hope it doesn’t disappoint her!

Do you have a thriving spoken word scene in your area? Who are your literary idols?

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Alan Bissett aka Moira Bell

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John Kennedy – fresh new talent!

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Magi Gibson gein it laldy!

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Jenni Fagan aka The Dead Queen of Bohemia

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.

 

 

You Are What You Wear

Your wardrobe says a lot about you – take a peek in mine and you won’t find any sportswear at all but you might hear the growl from animal print outfits. I’m a girly girl who’s always loved fashion and although I own a pair of jeans I’d rather dress up than dress down. People express themselves and their feelings through their choice of clothes and this give others an insight into their lifestyle. I find this fascinating and that’s why I was keen to see the A Century of Style: Costume and Colour 1800-1899 exhibition at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow and headed there with my pal Katy.WebRotatorblack

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Did the bride who walked down the aisle in these shoes live happily ever after?

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A dress fit to satisfy the demands of any 19th century bridezilla!

The exhibition is an opportunity to view some rarely seen examples of European womenswear, menswear and children’s clothing.

On display are dresses and outfits made with delicate embroidered cottons and elaborate woven silks, as well as gorgeous wedding dresses and fancy evening gowns. Leading Glaswegian department stores and dressmakers are represented in the exhibition, alongside an exquisite beaded couture dress from Paris. I’m partial to a bit of bling so I was glad to see accessories on show, including delicate jewellery, bonnets, colourful shawls, fans and purses.

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A dress bought from a store in Glasgow in 1885.

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A bamboo and silk bag from 1886 that would still look stylish today!

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Made in India‘ hand stitched into the interior.

What intrigued me was how these clothes were made as well as wondering about the stories about the people who wore them. I love to rake around vintage shops and snap up bits ‘n’ pieces that have seen a bit of action.

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From Doune Antiques Centre – a favourite place to visit.

A recent purchase is a black patent handbag,  I’ve no idea where this has been before I bought it or who owned it but I don’t need to guess about my favourite vintage piece.

One of my most treasured possessions is a beaded evening bag that my gran gave me.

Her brother George was in the merchant navy and this was one of the gifts to her from his exotic travels. My gran was a stylish dresser and I like to think that my namesake passed on her love of clothes and accessories.

But as far as I’m aware, as a working class housewife, she never had a reason or the occasion to use the evening bag.  I bet she’d be chuffed to know that I’ve used George’s gift on several outings and I’m sure that wee bag’s adventures are far from over….

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Me in 1985 as a moody goth girl

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Me in 1986 practising how to strike a pose

Fast forward a hundred years from the clothes on show in the exhibition and you find yourself in 1985, the same year Talk of the Toun is set and the fashions are not for the faint-hearted!

It’s the only era you could wear leg warmers, a geometric print jumper and a miniskirt all at the same time, and in electric neon colours. As a 17-year-old in 1985, like most teenagers, I was experimenting with my look and went from black to bright in a matter of months.

 

 

As a writer, the characters I create need to wear clothes to reflect their personality. Do you feel the clothes you wear say something significant about you?

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Madonna – the ultimate and iconic 80s style queen!