A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer.

I’m delighted to announce my latest book, A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer has now been published. I’ve collected together all the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories, before, sadly, it closed. A Scottish Childhood

I’ve added an introduction and more photos that my father took of us growing up in the West of Scotland after the Second World War. He was a keen amateur photographer, winning prizes for his work and publishing photos in newspapers and magazines. One of his pictures was also used for an advert for bicycle saddles!

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light. The marriage broke up and eventually I decided that I wanted very little to do with him as I blamed him for the distressing circumstances we found ourselves in. It was only after his death when my brother handed over photographs and journals which my father had compiled that I was able to reappraise the man he was and learn to my astonishment that he too, had been a writer.

As I looked through the photographs which he had taken, it brought vividly to life happier times in my childhood and this book celebrates those days.

The book is available on Amazon.

Gathering in the Harvest

There’s a stillness, a quietness in the air this morning as if Nature is exhausted after yesterday’s storm when the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia swept in over the west coast, fortunately not doing much damage. The apple tree in the garden though, had a good shoogle as we say here, and apples have been strewn across the garden. However, a few are still clinging on to their branches like shipwrecked sailors clinging to the mast. And there’s enough for another apple dessert of one shape or another.apple tree

And I’ve reached a hiatus too in my writing life. I need to take stock of what I’ve done and where to go next. I’ve counted that there are three books that I’ve written out in publisher land waiting for decisions about their future to be made. Information about several interesting competitions is sitting on my desk and on my calendar are two speaking engagements in the next few weeks. Plus an article hopefully being read with enthusiasm across the Atlantic.

One competition is purely for writers from Ayrshire with the theme of Head in the Clouds, a state most writers know only too well. Previously this competition was keen on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, with one of our club members scooping the prize one year. His story even yet sticks in my mind, involving as it did, a dead hand emerging from a manure heap. Grisly!

The Scottish Association of Writers runs several competitions with the results announced at its conference in March. This year I was an adjudicator and wasn’t allowed to enter the competitions I wasn’t judging, but in 2018 I shall be just an ordinary attendee and free to enter as many as I like. It’s a good opportunity to try a genre I don’t normally write like poetry or drama and get a critique on your work as well as perhaps a prize. So I shall have a think about that.

One of my talks is to residents of a sheltered housing complex about what I have been writing since I last spoke to them 18 months ago. No lack of material there, just decisions to be made on what to miss out, skim over or concentrate on.

The other engagement is for a workshop on writing the short story at Ayr Writers’ Club. I have been reading and listening to a variety of short stories – no great hardship as I enjoy that – and two have stuck in my mind. The winner of the Scottish Arts Club competition is  Iain MacDonald with his story, The Gannet, an evocative piece of excellent writing.

The other one is the short story which won the BBC National Short Story Award, The Edge of the Shoal by Cynan Jones. I listened to it when it was broadcast on Radio 4 recently. I was out for a walk at the time and was so wrapped up in it, I just kept walking until it came to an end. In an interview for the New Yorker, Cynan Jones states that:

I’m not sure fiction should provide the reader with a thorough picture of a person. Reality doesn’t. We build our ideas of others through assumptions we make based on the small things they show.

Readers are imaginative, creative people in their own right. By revealing little details, implications, readers form a relationship with the character based on their own understanding, not my insistence.

Food for thought indeed. Meantime back to the apples and perhaps an apple tart tonight?

Visiting Largs Writers Group

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Largs from the pier

It’s a beautiful drive up the coast road to the small town of Largs, nestled on the shores of the Firth of Clyde. On a clear day there are views of the island of Arran with the ferry sailing across to it, then further up the coast, the islands of Cumbrae come into view with the island of Bute rising behind. The wee town of Millport is on Cumbrae and was where I often went for my summer holidays as a child. It’s only a short hop on the ferry across to it nowadays and the local school kids travel on it every day to school in Largs.

But I didn’t have time to stand and stare, more’s the pity, as I was off to give a talk on writing for children to the local writers group who meet every Monday morning in the library. They are a very keen and enthusiastic group and there were around 20 members present, not bad for 10am on an October morning.largs group

In preparation for my talks, I always like to visit my local bookshop, Waterstones, where resident children’s expert, Kirsty, fills me in over coffee on what is new and selling well, on what deserves to win a prize for children’s writing, and books which simply appeal to her. And to me too. I always end up buying loads and no, I haven’t any grandchildren to pass them on too, I just love children’s books.

The picture book which we both liked was Oi Dog! It illustrates perfectly the 3R’s of writing for young children, Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition. And it’s funny. Humour goes down well with kids. And I think the Largs group liked it too.518rgc66GDL

I also spoke about how children’s books subtly change as they go up the age ranges. For young children. the illustrations are dominant, full colour, spreading right across the page and often carrying part of the story as well. As kids become better readers, the illustrations shrink, become black and white and may well disappear altogether. Meantime, the text expands with more complex vocabulary, longer compound sentences and interesting verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

I had to set a competition for the members so I’ve asked them to write me 1000 words max of a children’s story, saying what age range they’re aiming at.  I’m looking forward to reading their entries and seeing if my talk hit the mark!

I heard Sally Polson of Floris Books speak at Scotswrite17 (see my previous blog) and she had said she was looking for Picture Kelpies (which is their children’s series) with a Scottish slant suitable for 3-6 years. The Largs group brainstormed Scottish ideas they could possibly use in writing for children and they came up with quite a few interesting ones. Hopefully, they’ll try their hand at writing for this publisher and be successful.bill and alison.jpg

After I’d finished my talk and sold several copies of my own children’s book, A Drop of Rainbow Magic, (commercial break!) we adjourned for lunch and a chat at a local hostelry. Eventually I dragged myself away and set off homewards after a very enjoyable time at Largs. I’ll meet up with some of them again in March at the Scottish Association of Writers conference in Cumbernauld.