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?

Guilt Trip!

‘How’s the writing going?’ 

It’s a common question to ask a writer. But what if you’re a writer who isn’t writing much, if anything at all? Kinda embarrassing, eh?

Here’s the truth…

downloadMy Work In Progress (WIP) isn’t doing much as far as the ‘P’ goes – I’ve only written two chapters so far. It’s no wonder then that when my fellow Cranachan author, Barbara Henderson tagged me in a Facebook thread for writers to share the opening sentence in the first few chapters of their WIP, I felt guilty. I’ve failed to sustain the momentum since I started writing my latest novel last year. I could trot out the usual excuses of life and work getting in the way but in reality, I need to stop faffing around and get stuck in!

But in the spirit of playing along, here goes… although bear in mind that as it’s a VERY rough first draft, these words might be ruthlessly chopped during the editing process.

Chapter 1 – September 2014

Saturday 19th – The Day After Scotland Decided

There was nothing else for it but to get pished last night.

Chapter 2 – October 2014

Tuesday 7th – The Naming Game

Eve had put me under pressure, I hadn’t actually promised to return with my great-granny’s badge and it wasn’t as if she knew where I lived or looked likely to do her messages in ASDA.

How’s your writing going?

Or if you’re a reader, does a novel set in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, in the year following the independence referendum sound of interest? It’s also going to weave in the story of the Siege of Leningrad too so it’ll be something very different for me to explore. Exciting and scary at the same time!

Reading between the wines…

downloadThe chance to chat about books and writing??? I was all over it like a rash and had a great time in Bathgate as the guest speaker at a book group.

fullsizerenderggFellow Scottish writer, Emma Mooney, kindly invited me to chat about Buy Buy Baby to members of her book group. The fact that the lovely group of women are all teachers meant that not only was there lots of book banter, we had a lively discussion about reading and creative writing in schools – topics I’m passionate about and we could’ve blethered all night!

Here’s Emma’s account of the evening…

Switch Off to be Turned On

bbb 92BBB COVER016 has been a helluva busy year for me so far. Not only did I go into business with my close friend, Anne Glennie, to start Cranachan Publishing, I also joined her educational company, The Learning Zoo, as a literary consultant delivering teacher training in the Reflective Reading programme. As if that wasn’t enough on my plate, I also launched my second novel, Buy Buy Baby.
At the promo events for Buy Buy Baby, a common question was, “What are you writing now?” The honest answer was, “Nothing”. My wee brain can only cope with so much and I didn’t have the time or energy to write and even my personal reading was suffering as I used my bedtime reading slot for submissions to Cranachan.

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Parked up and ‘locked’ away for uninterrupted writing.

A drastic measure was required and when I read that Moniack Mhor was running an untutored retreat, I knew this was the answer. So much of my day jobs require me to be ‘on’ and operating in performance mode and active on social media. It was time for me to flick the dial to ‘off’ if I was ever going to get back to my own creative writing.

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Silence + stunning scenery = bliss

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Moniack Mhor twice in the past so I knew it was a very special place. The difference this time was that it wasn’t a course, there would be no workshops and set routine.

The freedom was good in one sense but also left scope for frittering away the week. But I’m naturally self-disciplined and I was also very aware that to be able to indulge myself in a week of uninterrupted writing is a luxury that should be respected rather than abused. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity and so before I went, I set myself a goal of reconnecting with an idea that first came to me over three years ago.fullsizerender-002
Previously, I’d made notes, done a bit of research and written a measly five thousand words but I hadn’t gone near the folder on my laptop for two years. There are lots of excuses for neglecting the idea but the main one was fear. I had no idea how to tackle the project and if I could pull it off. My aim for my week’s retreat was to dust off the folder and see if it still ‘spoke’ to me. Would the initial idea be as interesting as I once believed? Could I plan a structure for the novel so that it no longer scared me? And was it possible to add to the five thousand words? At the very least, I knew I’d come home with a steer on whether or not to develop it further or start from scratch with something new.

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Taking time to think and look closer..

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Taking time to think and look closer..

My first day was spent rereading the five thousand words, editing them and trying to reengage with the ‘voice’ again.

The good news was that I knew I still wanted to work on the idea. Day two was all about sorting out my notes and creating a framework as I needed to make sure that I had a clear idea of why I was about to commit to writing this novel. What was I trying to say and how could I best achieve this? By day three, I had a rough (very!) draft outline for the whole novel, all I needed to do now, was to actually start writing it! By the end of day four, I had added six thousand new words, created character profiles and even written a poem (not something I ever do!) that might feature in the novel.
Not only did I get stuck in to my writing, I also went for a scenic walk each day, read a book from my mountainous tbr pile and met a group of lovely people including fellow Scottish writers Zoe Venditozzi and Shane Strachan.  I came home more than happy with what I’d managed to achieve at Moniack Mhor and feel fired up and raring to go. Of course, reality will soon kick in and the demands of day jobs and life in general but I’m determined to keep the momentum going…

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Loch Ness in the distance on my way home – refreshed and recharged.

 

Have you benefited from going on a writes’ retreat?

Love, Loss and Acceptance

DSCF4342Today on my blog, I’m delighted to welcome writer, Amanda Saint, who explores the reactions of readers to the themes in her debut novel, As If I Were A River.

Since my debut novel, As If I Were A River, was published in April I’ve been lucky enough to get lots of reviews from book bloggers and readers. It’s been interesting to see the themes that have emerged in people’s reading of it.

When I started writing it I was driven by the pondering I’d been doing on how a woman would react to her husband vanishing and having no idea of what happened to him. That woman turned out to be Kate and in the writing of her story it turned into so much more. It went from being just Kate’s story of her husband going missing, to also being the story of her mother, Laura, and grandmother, Una, and how the decisions they’d made in the past had a huge influence on how Kate reacted to everything.

AIIWAR Cover Final smallKate is a product of her past and she has never moved on from the emotional hurts of her childhood and adolescence. But most importantly, she has never recognised this in herself so has never taken steps to deal with it. When her husband, Jimmy, disappears this is a catalyst for everything that she’s been suppressing to come to a head. Which is where the story of the women in the family that came before her comes into play.

Each of them are influenced by society’s structure and attitudes to women and the weight of family expectations. As I worked through the different drafts of the novel, I could see a theme emerging that questioned how people live their lives. Whether it’s the ones they really want to or the ones that just happen to them. Whether they even stop to think about that. That’s where the title came from – the river is a metaphor for the paths our lives take. How you can be going along one way and come across an obstacle that send you careering off on another route, and how you have very little control over that.  But now that I’ve been reading other people’s reactions to the book, it seems that other strong themes that have been emerging for many readers are love, loss and acceptance.

When I saw this appearing in so many of the reviews, I obviously started to think about that myself. And I realised that these are the themes that run through so much of my writing. I’m fascinated by human relationships – with other people, with themselves, with other animals, with spirits, gods, and with the planet.

How people born to the same parents, brought up in the same house, educated at the same schools, can be so different in so many ways. How we react to love and loss, and how some people find a way to peace and acceptance and others never do. Why we carry on blindly doing things we know are bad for our physical and/or mental health.

This is where the focus in As If I Were A River is. Both Kate and Laura make decisions and take actions that hurt themselves physically and mentally, and the narrative of the story is driven forward by the urge to discover whether they will, or can, ever come back from this and find a happier future. Although the story deals with some harrowing themes and goes to some dark places, it is also filled with love and I’ve been so happy to see that readers have got this from it and that they find the hope that runs through it all.

Thanks to Amanda for this insight into a striking debut which is sure to be a big hit with readers. You can follow Amanda on Twitter @saintlywriter to keep up-to-date with all her writing news.

 

Size Isn’t Everything

Thanks to Twitter, I’ve ‘met’ several writers who have become on-line friends. One of those like-minded folk is the lovely writer, Carol Lovekin whose début novel, Ghostbird  was published this month and described by none other Joanne Harris as, ‘Charming, quirky, magical’  Joanne Harris. I’ve invited Carol to talk about her experience of being published by a small independent press and her writing journey which I’m sure will be of interest to new writers.

(Photo credit: Janey Stevens)

As I’ve said elsewhere and probably far too often, I see myself as a writer suffering from arrested development. (I stole the description from Mary Wesley, partly as an homage and also because it so accurately describes me.) While the claim, ‘I’ve always written’ is as true for me as any other writer, until I decided to commit to writing, it was little more than a platitude.

Over the years I’ve penned self-indulgent poetry, some acceptable journalism, two terrible novels and a slightly better one. But I never settled into a disciplined writing state of mind. Life intruded, the way it does for many women, and time seemed to be a thing other women had plenty of. All at once finding myself older, I woke up, made time and wrote Ghostbird.

One of the conceits unpublished writers indulge in is practising their signature – in anticipation of a book launch, or an appearance at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Day-dreams aside, the idea that I might get a ‘proper’ publishing deal seemed as likely as learning to fly. My personal publishing dreams certainly never included a major press, not because I didn’t consider myself good enough rather that, once a respectable draft of Ghostbird was completed, I already knew where I wanted to submit it.

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Part of he landscape which inspired the setting for Ghostbird.

Honno – the Welsh Women’s Press – was always the home I imagined for my book. It’s ‘down the road’ so to speak, located in the West Wales town of Aberystwyth and committed to publishing the best in Welsh women’s writing and to giving new writers a voice. It was set up in 1986 as a co-operative by a group of volunteers and is now one of the jewels in the crown of Welsh publishing. Ghostbird is rooted in this part of Wales; I couldn’t see it fitting anywhere other than with Honno.

After Janet Thomas – who was to become my editor – read the first fifty pages, she asked to see the rest of the manuscript for Honno on the understanding there would be no expectations on either side. With this in mind, Janet continued to mentor me and free to spread my net wider I did try and secure an agent. I even submitted cold to a few bigger publishers willing to read un-agented scripts. The result was invariably along the lines of, ‘We love the way you write but we don’t really get you or know what to do with you.’ (It reminded me of an assortment of phrases unique to the Welsh and just as meaningless: ‘I’ll be with you now in a minute’ or ‘Whose jacket is this coat then?’)bb

That my dream has finally come true still astonishes me. I find I’ve joined a gifted and generous group of women writers, editors and ‘behind the scenes’ talented experts. It’s like being accepted into the paraliterary wing of the sisterhood.

Unlike a big publishing house – concerned as they are with production schedules and profit margins – a small press can think outside the box. They’re able to seek out the original and the unusual, take a risk on the stories other more traditional publishers might reject. A small press may not have the financial resources; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it.

What has most impressed me about Honno is the professionalism. From the moment I signed the contract I’ve been in skilled hands. Having no idea what the process of creating a physical book entailed, the reality has been an eye-opener. And a small team means I have been included in every step of the process.

ghostbird-cover-final-front-only-sm-1-copyIf there are any down-sides, I’ve yet to encounter them. There’s less money available and a reliance on grant funding, so no fat advances or luxury launches. (Since it was never about monetary reward for me anyway, that bit is irrelevant.) Being invited by my local branch of Waterstones to hold my book launch there and being surrounded by the people who have, through all manner of kindnesses, supported my writing is everything I could have hoped for or wanted.

(And if ever I do get to Hay-on-Wye, with my signature a dream of curlicues – you may remind of this!)

As this is the final stop on the tour I’d like to thank Helen for inviting me to her blog and end by saying, writing a book is a love-affair. Like a love-affair there is no point unless you’re committed. Both writing and love require attention to detail and a willingness to take risks. It also requires that you occasionally throw caution where you can find it later and if it’s worth it, never give up.

Thanks for such an interesting insight Carol and I wish you all the success you deserve with Ghostbird. You can join me in following Carol on her writing journey on Twitter @carollovekin

 

 

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!