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!

 

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

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My MLitt classmates from Stirling University.

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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.

 

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

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Sharing the moment with my proud mum and wee sister.

 

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the World in 3 Days

3af9fde0I travelled east three times last week (by train not in a hot air balloon!) to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The theme for this year’s programme was ‘Around the World’ to showcase some of the most interesting authors from across the planet.

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Peter and Karen in conversation with EIBF’s director Nick Barley.

The first event I attended had the title, ‘Can We Ever Escape From Ourselves?’ and featured Karen Campbell and Peter Stamm. This combo initially seemed an odd match but it soon became apparent that both authors shared a common theme in their latest novels. You can read my review of Karen’s book, Rise, here but to give you a wee taster it’s set in Argyllshire where several characters cross paths who are all on the run from past experiences that haunt them.download

Peter’s book, All Days Are Night, is set in Switzerland and is an exploration of how a high-profile woman struggles to make sense of her life after a horrific crash which results in requiring facial reconstruction. A person’s sense of identity and the search for inner peace was discussed by both writers and the thought-provoking events raised more questions than answers leaving the audience hanging on every word.

imagesI bobbed back to Edinburgh with hubby two days later to hear another engaging author delving into issues with an international flavour. This time it was the turn of acclaimed actress Meera Syal who spoke to a packed audience about her new novel, The House of Hidden Mothers in the ‘Dreams of Motherhood and Freedom‘ event.

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Lee Randall chaired Meera’s event.

I read the book recently and it was an eye-opener as I’d no idea that India was the cheapest place for ‘fertility tourism’ as poverty makes Indian women happy to bear children for infertile western couples who find the costs lower and the legislation less stringent. The contrast between the affluent main character in London (known as a Non Resident Indian) and the deprived surrogate mother in rural India was fascinating and promoted questions from the audience over the ethics of this ‘rent a womb’ business and feminist issues related to the changing role of women in different cultures.

My third trip east was to meet some of my fellow ThunderPoint authors. This was a great chance for me to build new friendships and to learn from the experience of those who’ve already trodden the publication path. It was exciting too to see their books on display in the festival’s book store and I hope that this time next year my novel will join theirs on the shelves. All three of the ThunderPoint writers have set their books in Scotland (although Margot’s characters also hop across the water to Rathlin Island in Ireland) so if you’re interested in quality Scottish fiction I’d highly recommend you check out the work of Margot McCuaig, Jackie McLean and Helen Forbes (who has the same name as my beloved gran – another born storyteller!).

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L to R – Me with Jackie McLean, Margot McCuaig, Helen Forbes

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 Birds That Never Flew – Pure Dead Brilliant!

I’m chuffed to bits at the prospect of being published by ThunderPoint later in the year and it’s an honour to be in the company of one of their other writers, Margot McCuaig.

Margot with the great new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

Margot with the shiny new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

As well as being a novelist, the multi-talented Margot is highly successful at writing, producing and directing documentary films. She also freely shares her knowledge and skills with other women writers as a mentor in the fantastic WoMentoring Project. Before I signed my publishing contract, she graciously offered me advice and guidance and her thought provoking blog posts never fail to make me reflect on what it means to be a writer.

I couldn’t wait to read Margot’s novel, The Birds That Never Flew (TBTNF),  the contemporary Scottish dialect used throughout, the exploration of dark themes and the use of dry humour is the same style of writing I enjoy reading and writing. TBTNF was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2014 and has been relaunched at Waterstones in Argyle Street,  at an event hosted by the bestselling Scottish writer Sara Sheridan.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

It was great to hear Margot discuss her work and as a feminist, her desire to write about strong female characters. I was also interested in her use of Glasgwegian dialect which she feels, like me, is essential to make the dialogue sound authentic. The writer, Naomi  Fribsy wrote an excellent article on the issue of using regional and cultural accents in writing and I’d advise anyone interested to read this piece. (beware, Naomi recommends her favourite novels written in non-standard accents and this meant I added to my tbr pile again!)

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan is one of my favourite books and I can’t imagine it written in any other way and another book that I also rate highly is Push by Sapphire, a stunning credible voice.

When I was looking for a publisher, this was the response from one publisher, ironically based in Edinburgh.

“The Scottish dialect in your novel flows effortlessly and was appreciated and understood by the Scottish members of the team. But readers unfamiliar with Scottish dialect found the novel too demanding and challenging.
We suggest that you submit your novel to a publisher more focused on publishing Scottish novels.”

I LOVE books that make the characters sound real and don’t know how that would that be possible if the writer didn’t use their natural speech? Do you agree?

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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…

The Female Muse

I’m always on the lookout for interesting events and if they’re free then that’s even better so this weekend (after a lovely lunch – food is an essential element of a day out) I returned to Stirling University where I did my MLitt Creative Writing course with my best pal, to attend The Female Muse Artist Talk by David Fagan.

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A stunning portrait by Suzanne Enterkin-Grogan of her mother.

The talk was related to the Female Muse Exhibition (12th Jan – 14th Feb at the MacRobert – well worth a visit!) of portraiture by local artists based at Marcelle House in Alloa. Many of the exhibiting artists were present at the talk and were able to add to David’s commentary on their work. To be honest, we’d no idea what to expect from the afternoon but we were blown away by the talent on display.

We’ve been to lots of artist talks and sometimes the artist has struggled to articulate their thoughts on their work. But David’s talk was easily one of the best events we’ve attended as there was no pretentious arty farty jargon and his down-to-earth approach meant we were comfortable asking questions.

The artists had used a diverse range of styles and techniques to capture the essence of their female muse and we left so inspired that we practically ran across campus to the MacRobert (okay, I admit we drove the short distance despite the beautiful campus setting) to see the original art on show.

download (12)I came home desperate to draw and paint again (a hobby I’ve put on hold since concentrating on my writing) and felt motivated by being surrounded by creative people. The following day, I was lucky enough to get another injection of artistic energy when I met up with photographer, Matthew Boyle. And this time I was the female muse!

I was introduced to Matthew by Anne Glennie, our mutual friend, who knew I was keen to have new photos taken that my publisher, ThunderPoint could use to market my book. I’m not photogenic and my default facial expression is crabbit (if I had £1 for every time someone’s said, “Cheer up hen, it might never happen”, I’d be rich by now). I’m also very aware that I’m not the shape and size I’d like to be so I feel quite self-conscious about posing for photos.

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Atmospheric Auchinstarry Quarry

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The benefit of makeup, good lighting and a professional photographer!

But I needn’t have worried, after getting to know each other a bit better over a cappuccino and fruit scone (food sneaks into every social scenario which might explain my weight problem!), Matthew made me feel so at ease that I relaxed and he managed to capture a natural expression where I genuinely look happy rather than tense.

I also felt comfortable with the location of the photo shoot as Matthew suggested meeting at Auchinstarry Quarry (an old climbing haunt from his youth) and this is an area where my dad played as a child. When Matthew encouraged me to smile, I imagined my dad’s chest bursting with pride that his daughter needed professional photos to promote herself as a writer, I think that memories of him helped  make the photo session (thanks to Matthew’s skill of course!) work so well.

Do you find that meeting artistic folk fires up your own creativity?