Boswell Book Festival


The Boswell Book Festival is held annually in May at Dumfries House near Cumnock, south of Glasgow.

We’ve attended most years and this year decided to become more involved and become  volunteers.screenshot

We could take bundles of leaflets to distribute so I thought I’d kill two birds etc and combine my daily walk with pushing the leaflets through letterboxes in my neighbourhood.

I learned a lot. First, utter respect for all postmen and in particular, mine, who must walk miles each day as part of their job and in all weathers. Having written Postman Pat stories for many years, I should have been aware of that! I had a glorious day with the sun beaming down on the spring flowers and it was a very pleasant, if tiring escapade. What would normally take me twenty minutes to walk took almost three times as long as I meandered up and down garden paths of all descriptions.

You can tell a great deal about people from the state of their front door. The letterboxes, for example, come in all types; some are just a simple flap which makes it easy to poke things through, many others have brushes inside which catch your fingers while the worst are stuck near the ground and require bending and stretching to deliver your goods.

Some front doors are very welcoming – kerb appeal, I think it’s called in estate agent parlance – with highly polished letterboxes and numbers, pots of flowers and welcome mats. One even had mini decorated Easter eggs in a tub of pansies.

Other houses had forgotten toys on the grass or piles of muddy boots and bikes in the porches, evidence of families with children to care for. Some had all their blinds and curtains closed. Well, it was a Sunday morning but not that early.

Cars were a bit of a nuisance, parked on driveways with very little space to squeeze through. Obviously some households have a car for everyone and have parked them on what passes for a lawn. They’re better than a spiky hedge for keeping people away.

Some houses are anything but welcoming. Scruffy peeling doors, chipped steps, even a locked gate stopping you approaching the front door. Signs were common – No cold callers, no charity bags, no flyers (they got one regardless!), no religious groups. One had even gone to the trouble of having a metal sign made repelling all boarders who dared to ring his bell (perhaps press his buttons might be more appropriate).

As I walked along, I found myself creating the characters that might live behind all those doors. Old and young, alone or in a family, tidy or sluttish, busy and rushing everywhere or lonely and keeping to themselves. By the time I’d posted every leaflet through many doors, I had enough characters and story situations for several short stories and a pile of novels to boot! Now just to write them.

But first, there’s the Boswell Book Festival to enjoy. I hope you’ll come too. Tickets are now available and they go fast so don’t miss out.

Competitions, Conferences and Chatting!

I’m just back from a wonderful weekend at the Scottish Association of Writers conference at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld.

I was the adjudicator for the Under 7’s story competition – writing a story suitable for a young child in no more than 750 words. I had 27 glorious entries with tales of vegetarian vampires, cows with bad colds, good samaritan midges and dancing centipedes among them. All of them were a delight to read and each had a lot of potential. I tried to give every story some advice and positive and constructive criticism so that the writer would have some idea of how to develop their writing skills. All entries are anonymous so I had no idea who had written what. I had to choose a commended, a highly commended, and  1st, 2nd and 3rd placings and it was very difficult indeed.

All this had to be done before the conference where the winners would be announced. I was the last of the many adjudicators to speak so my entrants had a long wait before I could announce my winners. I was delighted to discover that the first prize winner was a member of my own writers’ club, Maggie Bolton, with a delightful story about a tadpole turning into a frog, called ‘Whoopee! My tail’s come off!’

maggie and winners

The winner, Maggie Bolton, is second right, with other trophy winners

I also ran a workshop for writing for young children, ‘Postman Pat’s Secrets for a Long Life’ (I wrote Postman Pat stories for a children’s comic for five years) and I spoke about how some contemporaries on TV at the same time as Postman Pat have disappeared without trace (The Flumps, King Rollo, Bertha, Pigeon Street – remember them?) while he is still going strong.

I read them one book which exemplified the three Rs of writing for children – Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition; ‘Oi Dog‘, a very funny book with a feisty frog as the main character. Alex T Smith’s Claude series is very popular with 5-7 year olds while the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell’s ‘Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse‘ is for older children but is such a beautiful looking book that I couldn’t resist buying it.books

Then it was time for some work with my group. I passed out slips of paper with a place or situation that a young child would know, e.g.the garden, brothers and sisters, going to nursery and they all scribbled down ideas that led from that. Some were very imaginative which was exactly what I was looking for. Then I gave each of them a name, some made up, some really quite ridiculous, and some ordinary and they all decided on who or what their character would be. Their imaginations went into overdrive and stories began emerging even from just a few notes!

And when they chose to match their characters with the situation I had given out first, well, I hope they will eventually turn into some cracking picture book stories.

The rest of the conference was just as busy and enjoyable, meeting up with old friends and making new ones, attending other workshops on all sorts of topics related to the business of writing, including one on marketing where we were all given sweets (thank you Wendy!) an excellent marketing ploy and one I’ll remember, and of course all the wining and fine dining throughout the weekend. Our main speaker was the actress Helen Lederer, whom I was lucky to sit next to at dinner, and I can tell you she is just as funny and attractive in real life as she is on TV.

Exhilarating and exhausting at the same time as the weekend is, is it any wonder I was tucked up in bed very early last night when I arrived home!