Confessions of a Bookaholic

I was flattered to be asked to write a guest post on any aspect of reading for Glasgow Book Groups blog and it made me realise how much time I spend reading. Here’s my post…

imagesMy name is Helen and I’m a bookaholic. There are worse addictions to have and it’s a fairly inexpensive and harmless enough obsession. But it is a problem. The reason being that I keep buying books when I’ve still got a humongous To Be Read (TBR) pile to get through and unless I lock myself away for the next year or so, I’ll never reduce the mountainous stack of books on my bedside table.

images (2)My book fetish has become even more out of control recently and I blame Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter (@HelenMacKinven) now for a year and a half and was wary of entering the murky waters of social media. But I dipped my painted toe in and once I realised that the water was not shark infested, I began to relax a bit and engage with other like-minded folk who loved books too. Many of those that I follow on Twitter write blogs on their own writing or review books. This provided me with a never-ending supply of book recommendations to feed my addiction.  I could get a quick fix within minutes on Twitter and before I could stop myself, I’d be hitting the ‘add to basket’ button on Amazon.

images (3)But what makes me chose one book over another? Obviously, taste is subjective and just because my best pal likes to read sci-fi, that doesn’t mean I’d ever consider anything with wee green men in it even although I originally come from Bonnybridge, allegedly the UFO capital of the world.  I’m not a fan of crime fiction either but I make an exception for Kate Atkinson’s Brodie series. And much as I also suffer from being a shoeaholic and have more handbags than I could ever need, I’m not interested in fluffy chick lit either. Then there’s the book every woman seemed to be talking about.  Listening to my pals, I feel as if I’m one of the few women on the planet who hasn’t read 50 Shades of Grey and I don’t ever intend to!

images (1)I’m also one of the few folk I know who doesn’t own a Kindle. I appreciate all the benefits but I still prefer a ‘tree’ book rather than an e-book and as an avid book festival goer, you can’t get a writer to sign a Kindle. A friend (who shall remain nameless to spare her blushes) swears by her Kindle as the best way to read erotica without anyone else knowing. It’s understandable as who would want to be seen on the train reading a bodice ripper? But I did fall victim to the old cliché of judging a book by its cover when I dismissed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes because of its girly pink cover only to later read it after numerous recommendations and found it to be a far deeper story-line than the artwork suggested.

And there are some books that I’ve been told I MUST read but haven’t enjoyed at all. I used to force myself to finish a book even when I hated it but no longer beat myself up and abandon it early on as life is too short. The most recent example was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. It may well be a classic in Scottish literature but it did nothing for me and I’m not ashamed to admit that my wee brain couldn’t cope with the deep and meaningful concepts.

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As a writer of contemporary Scottish fiction aimed at female readers, I tend to choose books in the genre I aspire to be published in so I read and enjoy writers such as Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, Anne Donovan, Laura Marney, Isla Dewar, Maggie O’Farrell to name but a few. Writers are often given the advice to write the book you’d want to read so that’s what I’m aiming to do. EL James need not worry about her status as queen of erotica!

I’m a bookaholic and proud of it. Are you? What makes you chose one book over another?

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Happy 1st Birthday Blog

I can’t believe that it’s October already and it made me realise that it’s over a year ago since I started my blog. I set myself a personal challenge to blog once a week or so and I’m chuffed that I’ve achieved my goal and reached a milestone.

Since starting the blog, I’ve racked up 51 posts and 27k words! I’ve often questioned whether it’s worth the time and effort but I’ve had lots of positive feedback from family and friends and I enjoy writing the posts, regardless of the number of hits.

Before I began blogging, I wasn’t even on Facebook, never mind Twitter. What a difference a year makes! I’ve really got to grips with social media now and despite my initial fear of the unknown, I feel part of a small group of like-minded aspiring writers who’ve offered me support and advice during the ups and downs of my writing journey and life in general. I’ve gained a great group of virtual friends through blogging and Twitter and I’ve even met up with the lovely Anne Glennie in person.

There are hunners and hunners and hunners of blogs out there written by writers all trying to break through but I’ve found a few gems worth following.  One of my favourite blogs, On the Literary Sofa is written by Isabel Costello’s and she also celebrated the first birthday of her blog recently.

Zadie’s latest novel is described as depicting the modern urban zone.

Isabel ran an anniversary competition with the first prize of a literary lunch with her in London. I didn’t win this prize but I hope to one day meet up with Isabel to talk books and put the world to rights.I never win anything except an argument so I was delighted to win one of the runner-up prizes of a copy of Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW.  Sandy the postie delivered it this morning and I can’t wait to see if it lives up to Isabel’s review as being, “definitely worth reading for the realistic depiction of London in all its aspects, not just of place but situation and dialogue, which Smith does brilliantly from pretentious dinner parties to confrontations between strangers in kids’ playgrounds.

If you’re an avid reader or looking to share your writing aspirations and have a laugh along the way, as Dermot would say in the X Factor finals, “In no particular order…”, up there with Anne and Isabel, the others who make up my top ten writing bloggers  are Wendy Storer, Cath Bore, Louise Walters, Teresa Stenson, Kristin Celms, Anne Stormont, Anita Chapman and Josephine Corcoran. Enjoy checking out these interesting and entertaining blogs- you won’t be disappointed and you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy the book chat etc! Do you know any great blogs for writers that I’m missing out on? What would be in your top ten?

P.S. I’ve just noticed that all of my favourite bloggers are women. I’ve not got a conscious gender bias but maybe it’s simply that I can relate more to these ladies who’re busy juggling family and work commitments alongside their writing aspirations. But if anyone knows of a male blogger who’s worth following, please let me know.

#amwriting But Why?

This was the first week of no classes at uni and it was a lonely week with no writing banter. Writing is a solitary experience so I’ve been using Twitter to connect with other writers. It’s like a virtual water cooler or my trips to the photocopier in my last job where you’d hear all the office gossip.

In case you’re not on Twitter, a hash tag is simply a way for folk to search for tweets that have a common topic and to begin a conversation. A popular hash tag used by writers is #amwriting and it’s a good way to learn from others and share the ups and downs of writing. But I wonder how many writers using the #amwriting hash tag actually stop and ask themselves, WHY am I writing?

“Why do you write?” was the first question my mentor asked us when we met him last week to discuss our dissertation ideas. Myself and two others from my MLItt class are very lucky to be given the chance to be mentored by the acclaimed writer and filmmaker, Ewan Morrison.

He has just launched a new book, ‘Tales from the Mall’ that you really should get your mitts on as it’s been described by Catherine O’Flynn, Costa prize winning author, as “A wonderful and important book”.

Ewan asked us to quickly make up a list of the positive and negative reasons for writing and to be honest!  The two lists made interesting and sometimes cringe worthy reading. As they say on the X Factor, in no particular order, here is the group’s results.

Negative                                                                            Positive

Money                                                                                  Social/political commentary

Status                                                                                   Escapism

Self-aggrandisement                                                          Entertainment

Self-indulgence                                                                   Ethics/philosophy

Revenge                                                                               Experiment with language

The list was not extensive but it was enough to get us discussing the good and bad reasons for writing and to analyse the ones which related most to our own ambitions as writers. How many writers would be willing to admit that they believe that they might make a lot of money writing books, that they will be famous and will be respected and remembered? But even if you’re prepared to admit that fame and fortune were your original writing goals, for the vast majority of writers, that will not be the case and this means they need to work out the other reasons why they write.

For me, it is the love of words and a creative outlet that I can’t imagine ever giving up. I’ve always been an avid reader and I now have the egotistical desire to be a creator rather than just a consumer. I love writing or there would be no point in locking myself away for hours on end. And I definitely wouldn’t have given up a permanent job to do the MLitt course if I didn’t feel passionately about writing. Writing is part of who I am.

All I need to do now is get my head around why I need to write this particular story.  After endless revisions, I need to take a step back and figure out what exactly I’m trying to say with my WIP and then figure out the best way to achieve it.  The world does not need my book but I need to write it. I write because I have to, why do you write?