Filling the Well

On Facebook this week, a ‘memory’ popped up in my newsfeed of a post I’d written a year ago about heading off to Moniack Mhor on a writing retreat. I’d claimed that I needed to cut myself off to get my next novel underway. My excuses for the retreat were that I had two demanding jobs at the time and had been too busy promoting Buy Buy Baby to focus on new writing. So, a year later, what’s the progress with my WIP (work in progress)? Not very much!

I’ve only got one part-time job now and the book promo has died down so there’s no real reason for me not to be churning out the words. Except that I needed space and time to catch up with myself and as Julia Cameron refers to in her book, The Artist’s Way, it was important for me to “fill the well”. She feels that we need an inner reservoir to draw from if we are going to be able to create. The reservoir is like a well which acts as a creative ecosystem that we need to care for and she warns that, “If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.” This makes perfect sense to me. I still feel strongly about the idea for my WIP but I also feel strongly that it’s important to read, try new things, go to events and basically reengage with all the other stuff I love doing in life and also sometimes to do nothing but relax.

Feeling elated to have achieved my ‘Everest’!

Fan girl moment with Roddy Doyle!

Overwhelmed by the feat of modern engineering at the Queensferry Crossing.

So over the summer I’ve read a lot more, been hill walking all over central Scotland, got into swimming again after years and even tried Zumba, visited Crawick Multiverse, Millport, Chatelherault Country Park, Skye, Wester Ross and Marseille, read new work at Woo’er with Words, went to the Workhorse photography exhibition, went to the pictures to see The War of Planet of the Apes, Girls Trip and Dunkirk, enjoyed a spa day with my bestie, went to book launches and festivals to be inspired by Bernard MacLaverty, Jenni Fagan, Russel McLean, Ciaran McMenamin, Keith Gray, Claire Fuller, Lisa McInerney, Roddy Doyle and Isla Dewar talking about their work, attended a fab performance of The Darling Monologues by Angela Jackson and the brilliant launch of the Fierce Women poetry anthology, got soaked on an excellent Glasgow Women’s Library heritage walk but stayed dry on their trip to the Museum Resources Centre, and was lucky to walk across the new Queensferry Crossing before it opened for traffic which was a “once in a lifetime experience”. That’s not a bad selection of activities to top up my well!

Lapping up the sunshine and beer in Marseille.

And although I’ve added only a feeble amount of words to the new novel, I have written some flash fiction, entered a short story competition and even tried writing poetry which is completely out of my comfort zone!

The main thing is though that after an intense spell of work and not enough play I’ve been busy in other ways. I’ve learnt and laughed a lot and that’s far more important to me than a word count.

How do you fill up your well?

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Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Thanks to Eddie McEleney for fab pics which captured the mood of the afternoon.

The hostess with the mostess! 😉

On Saturday, I was the guest host for [Untitled]’s monthly spoken word event in Falkirk.

There’s never any guarantee of how many readers will turn up to share their work so to cover the worst-case scenario of a lack of performers, I decided to dig out something to read. The last few times I’ve read at [Untitled], it’s been extracts from my novel, Buy Buy Baby (on promo at only 99p for this month!) but I felt I should try out something new.

I’m not ready yet to share any of my work in progress (which isn’t progressing much at all at the moment!) so I was struggling to think of a piece I could read that would standalone. It’s quite hard to find extracts from novels that make sense without setting the scene to explain the background of characters and the context of the piece. That’s where poets have it easier.

But for me, poetry isn’t easy. The one and only time I submitted a poem it was actually published. This instant success didn’t spur me on to write more and I’d never read out the poem in public. The poem was published in 2003 and I had a different surname, my previous married name, and a very different life. When I reread the poem, it was hard to recognise the person who wrote such a dark and melancholy poem. I felt exposed just reading it privately.

I also remembered that included in my WIP, the main character writes a poem to describe her relationship with her new friends. Again, the voice didn’t feel like mine. But I did have two poems to read if I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.

As it happened, there were eleven readers keen to share their work on Saturday and I relaxed in the knowledge that I wouldn’t need to air my poetry. But here’s the thing… several of the readers had never performed their work before and were understandably a wee bit nervous. In my role as host, I did my best to support them and encourage them to be bold and put themselves and their words out there. And yet, I realised I was a hypocrite who was avoiding reading my own work. On the spur of the moment, I decided (with grateful audience encouragement) to practise what I preached and I read both of my poems.

Genuinely, to my surprise, they seemed to go down well. Later, I even got a tweet from one of the readers who said, “@HelenMacKinven poetry was wonderful. Poignant and delicate. You should write more poetry!” That made my day and I was chuffed to bits although I think I’ll leave writing poetry to poets and stick to prose. But it felt good to push myself a wee bit and it gave me the boost that I needed to keep writing, in whatever genre…

When have you stepped out of your comfort zone? Do you enjoy sharing your work in public or is your writing private?

 

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

Build It and They Will Come

As an avid reader and writer, I love attending literary events for insight and inspiration. Up until very recently this meant that I had to travel west to Glasgow or east to Edinburgh to hear readings by well-known writers.

The reason I no longer have to travel 20+ miles is thanks to [Untitled] and The Grind working hard together to make Falkirk a destination for quality literary gatherings. Following the success of previous events, the latest coup for [Untitled] and The Grind was to feature established names and exciting new writers of Scottish contemporary writing.

The event, called Nomenclature,  which in Latin, means “naming” and is the process of giving specific, descriptive names to things (a new word for me!) was an all-female line-up – ‘No-men-clature’ is quite unusual.

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Fiona gein it laldy!

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Janet sharing one of her anecdotes of family life.

Nomenclature had something for all tastes and was compèred by Jenny Lindsay, of Rally and Broad, who set the tone with her entertaining spoken word performances.

There was also hilarious Scots poetry from Falkirk born award-winning writer Janet Paisley who had the audience in stitches with her dead-pan delivery. Then there was Celtic poetry and music inspired by Scotland’s turbulent history performed by Katharine Macfarlane and Fiona McNeill.

Lucy Ribchester read her evocative short story, The Glass Blower’s Daughter, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Costa Short Story Award and an extract from her excellent debut novel, The Hourglass Factory. Writer Vicki Jarret has recently launched her collection of short stories, The Way Out and the restaurant setting of the story she read was a great taster (couldn’t resist the pun!).

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MacGillivray’s words and music were full of emotion.

The unique voice of MacGillivray was showcased with her haunting music and ethereal words in a performance the like of which I’m sure the venue (a former haunt of mine when it was Rosie’s nightclub and more used to the hits of Madonna than MacGillivray) has ever experienced!

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Janice’s use of comic timing and facial expression is priceless.

For me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, Janice Galloway, the headline act, fulfilled her top billing status. Janice has a powerful presence which permeates a room with her dramatic style and distinctive voice.

Reading a passage from her memoir, This is Not About Me, which describes her sister getting ready for a big night out in Ayr, she used her talent to brilliant effect and wowed the crowd. Janice is one of my all-time favourite writers and to have the chance to hear her read and meet her (she was very sociable considering I came across as a star struck groupie!) was the highlight of the night.

All credit to [Untitled] and The Grind as Nomenclature was proof that you don’t need to be a big city to attract big names.  Do you have access to hearing inspiring writers locally?

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L to R – Vicki Jarret, Janice Galloway, MacGillivrary, Fiona McNeil, Katharine Mcfarlane, Janet Paisley

(Thanks to Eddie McEleney for permission to use his excellent photographs from the event).

Love is in the Air

10615502_759935190742545_4776851674993844753_nFor the third time, I went along to Woo’er with Words with my bestie and I was one of 16 local writers who took part in the monthly spoken word event held in Falkirk. It’s organised by [Untitled] to give writers an opportunity to read their poems and short stories in public. It’s a lovely set-up with a very casual, laid-back atmosphere to experiment with new writing and practise reading aloud. It’s also a great chance to meet like-minded folk and make new friends.

Love_HurtsThere’s a theme for each month and as it’s so close to Valentine’s Day, the obvious choice was ‘love’.  I decided to challenge myself to do something out of my comfort zone. I don’t read or write poetry but at a recent workshop, I was given the task of writing a list poem starting with, ‘Who here has… ?’.  The idea seemed simple enough so I thought even I could manage to come up with something about love. My poem is called ‘Crazy Little Thing’ as I’m intrigued by the things people do and say with the pretext of love. I wanted to hint at the flip side of love when it can morph from being positive to negative when protective turns into being possessive. I’m not convinced my poem worked and it’s probably a one-off for me (some might be glad to hear) and I’ll stick to fiction but it was worth dabbling with something different.

logo4 copyI also read out a piece of flash fiction I’d recently submitted to Paragraph Planet. I enjoy writing flash fiction and regularly submit to the Paragraph Planet as I like the discipline of keeping within the rigid word count and have often found that the short pieces have sparked an idea for something much longer.  It’s a great cure for writer’s block. The website has been publishing one 75-word paragraph every day since November 2008. Famous authors and aspiring writers have all got involved, submitting a mixture of twist-in-the-tale flash fiction. My latest offering has been submitted in the hope that they might feature it on Valentine’s Day. If it doesn’t get selected, you can get a preview (or only view!) here.

No Rhymes or Roses

I stood at the window but the postman’s van sped past the house in a flash of red.  There was no thump of mail on the doormat so no need to check for a card.

The single tear rolled down my cheek.

My brother shook his head.

“I don’t understand why you’re upset, there’s nothing special about Valentine’s Day, no one loves you on the other days of the year either.”

Have you written a love themed poem or story? Do you have a local opportunity to experiment and share your writing?

Special Effects

The hype in the Herald made it sounded like a not-to-be-missed event, “a stunning sound and light spectacular that casts a magical atmosphere over Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens.” I’m always up for anything new and interesting that could be inspirational and spark an idea for a story.

So me, hubby and our two close friends Anne and Gordon got wrapped up and queued for what we expected to be a magnificent setting for a Saturday night stroll – a tenner a napper worth of winter wonderland.

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The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc – now THAT’S what I’d call spectacular!

The Baltic weather was ideal, a dry crisp night but it turned out to be a damp squib. I’ve been to The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc in Barcelona and on home turf, the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry and the Electric Glen in Rouken Glen so I’ve seen other light and sound shows. That’s why I feel qualified to judge The Electric Gardens and  feel totally underwhelmed by Glasgow’s lame effort. It felt as if someone had been sent to B & Q to relieve them of their unsold Christmas lights in the January sale and dot them around the park. My hubby described the ‘display’ as passive (he’s far more polite than me!) and I couldn’t have summed it up better. Anyone can visit the Botanic Gardens for free and all four of us left wondering where our money had been spent to create an added dimension. Yes, there was a ‘fire show’ but I’ve seen the same type of performance on Buchanan Street any day of the week for the voluntary toss of a coin into a hat.

So was it a crap night out? No! Because we made our way down Byres Road to The Sparkle Horse for a lovely meal. The conversation over dinner was far more illuminating than any of the trees we’d strolled past in the park. We covered a range of topics and one of them was the story of the bravery of my hubby’s grandfather in the First World War. There’s plenty of inspiration to be had from this heroic family tale.

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Photo credit:Sweet P Photography

Earlier that afternoon, along with my best friend, I attended a tribute and celebration of Barbara Hammond’s life who died suddenly at the end of last year. The event was organised by The Write Angle, a platform for new writing by new writers and promoting work by other artists, musicians and craftspeople in the Forth Valley area. Barbara was a highly respected local writer who I met at Woo’er with Words, the excellent spoken word events organised by [Untitled] and held monthly in Falkirk. It was very moving to learn about Barbara’s role as a volunteer for many years in supporting adult literacy programmes. When Gemma, one of Barbara’s students from Skills for Life read out a poem there was no need for special effects. The power of people and their unique stories made Saturday a precious day. I spent it with good friends, sharing extraordinary stories told by ordinary folk.

Do family and friends inspire your writing?

From the Mouth of Bairns

download (7)If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I’m very proud of the fact that I was born in Falkirk which means I can call myself a ‘bairn’. The term ‘bairns’ is used for the town’s football team supporters and folk who come from Falkirk. Bairn is also the Scottish term for young children, though no-one can prove conclusively why Falkirk’s citizens are called ‘bairns’.

download (4)Like so many historical conundrums there’s no conclusive answer. On the basis of scraps of evidence, it seems that the term was commonplace throughout the 19th century and there was said then to be an ‘old’ saying – ‘You’re like the bairns o’ Fa’kirk, you’ll end ere you mend’ so it probably takes the term back to the 18th century at least. The term ‘bairns’ also features on the Coat of Arms of the Burgh of Falkirk with the motto, “Better Meddle wi’ the De’il than the Bairns o’ Fa’kirk” and the motto, “Touch ane, touch a’.”

creative-place-winner-2014But does describing yourself as a Falkirk ‘bairn’ give you a sense of identity? This was one of the questions posed at a writing workshop led by writer Alan Bissett, originally from Hallglen in Falkirk. The workshop was organised to stimulate ideas for a book celebrating the work of local professional and amateur writers from the Falkirk area. It is being produced by Falkirk Community Trust (FCT) as one of their projects following Falkirk being named as a Creative Place Award Winner for 2014.

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Elizabeth Blackadder is arguably one of the UK’s favourite living artists.

When the workshop group discussed how they would describe Falkirk to a foreigner, a common theme that cropped up was the industrial heritage of the town. Although the Kelpies have given Falkirk an instant arts boost, the town is not renowned as being a hub of creativity, despite the fact that famous artists such as Elizabeth Blackadder are ‘bairns’. Although, the situation is improving with events such as Untitled’s monthly spoken word gatherings offering writers a much-needed outlet for their work.

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Alan Bissett’s books have helped put Falkirk on the literary map.

As they say, things can only get better and FCT plan to use the award to work with a number of partners to support a cultural project called ‘Acts of Discovery’, aimed at offering audiences a fresh look at the area and its cultural offering.

Part of the project will be a book edited by Alan with the aim of providing a snapshot of Falkirk with stories and poems that are either based in or inspired by the area.

 

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There’s more to Falkirk than the Falkirk Wheel!

To fire up our thoughts of Falkirk, Alan asked us to think of a place unique to Falkirk. We then had to think of 2 things, 1 smell and 1 sound related to that place. After that we had to choose 2 characters and write a scene involving some sort of conflict. There are many places unique to Falkirk such as Callendar House and park, the Steeple, Brockville stadium etc. but the one that sprang to my mind was the York café in the High Street.

 

download (5)I scribbled down a scenario inspired by childhood visits to the York café (most of my happy memories involve food!) and we then shared our efforts. It was really interesting to hear the diverse range of settings and the workshop certainly made us all reflect on a sense of belonging.

An added bonus for me was bumping into a long-lost friend, Marianne Dryburgh, who in the 12 years or so since our paths have crossed has also completed an MLitt in Creative Writing so we had lots to talk about and catch up on (over lunch in the café of course).

Does your hometown influence your writing?