There’s a First Time for Everything

I thought for a change I’d post one of my short stories that I had published. This one was in an Australian magazine and I was delighted to buy a copy in a New Zealand newspaper shop where we were holidaying at the time. The photo, no prizes for guessing, is Sydney Harbour Bridge which we have driven across, walked across and climbed to the top of.

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There’s a First Time for Everything

“Is this your first?” I say.

She nods and chews her bottom lip. She is just so nervous. I try to think of ways to calm her. I put my hand on top of hers. It’s cold and there’s a tremor which she’s trying to conceal.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. It’s an everyday thing; hundreds of people are doing it, no problem.”

She nods again and this time a glimmer of a half smile flickers over her features. She’s so young, it makes me feel ancient, though forty isn’t nowadays. Her pale skin has a flare of spots round her mouth as if she’s been touching them and spreading them around. Fine, mousy blonde hair falls over her eyes and her cheeks and I want to tell her to pin it back so that she can see clearly. 

As if I’ve spoken aloud, at that moment she digs into the pocket of her coat and pulls out a blue sparkly hair-band. It’s so little-girlish I can’t help smiling. She drags it over her forehead, capturing the wayward strands of her hair and revealing a high forehead which she’s obviously been trying to cover up. She looks even younger, like a modern day Alice. I grin at her, aware that I probably look like the Cheshire Cat to her, my teeth revealed in the rictus of my smile. I’m not feeling terribly confident myself.  

“I don’t want it to hurt,” she stammers. “That would be awful.”

“It won’t,” I reassure her. “Not nowadays with all those new drugs and things. Before, it used to hurt something terrible, but that’s all past. It’s all quite painless now.” I hope she doesn’t notice my crossed fingers behind my back. I can’t stand pain and I certainly don’t want to even think about it.

“I hope it won’t take too long,” she says and her voice has disappeared to a whisper. Her hands are shaking even more.

“It will be over before you know it,” I say. I take hold of both her hands to still the trembling. “Stop worrying. You’ll be fine, believe me.”

“Excuse me.” She jerks her hands away. “I have to go to the loo.”

She rushes out and leaves me alone. I look around at the equipment waiting to be used. It’s all clean and sterile, instruments neatly lined up in their plastic wrappers, Through the frosted glass of the window I can just see the vague shape of the chestnut tree in the driveway. The candles on it are large and white and pregnant with fruits to come. The branches quiver in the freshening breeze. They remind me of her hands.

When she returns, there are two red spots on her cheeks but she looks calmer.

“Feeling better?” I ask.

“Yes, thanks. It’s my first time, you see, and I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”

“You won’t,” I reassure her. “You’ll see. You’ll soon get used to it. I have every confidence in you.” But I don’t. Not with shaky hands like that.

“Take some deep breaths,” I suggest. “They’re supposed to be calming.” So she deep breathes for a few minutes, her chest rising and falling as she does. I frantically think of other ways of helping her to relax. 

“Exercise,” I say. I’ve read somewhere that exercising releases endorphins which calm you down. “Couldn’t you run round the block? Do press-ups? Touch your toes ten times?”

She’s looking at me as if I’m demented, which I admit, I’m getting close to. It’s those shaky hands. I have to drag my mind back from the horrible pictures they’re trying to sneak into my brain.

I’m just about to run out of the room myself when the door opens and a man in a white coat enters.

“Good morning Mrs Brown,” he says to me. “I’m here to supervise Janine as she does her first filling. We don’t want anything to go wrong, do we?”

“No,” we both chorus wholeheartedly.

I lie back in the dentist’s chair and watch as Janine reaches for the drill. Her hands are steady as a rock. I relax and close my eyes.

Not that any of us can go to the dentist these days! Keep safe, keep well and may your teeth stay healthy!

Books to Buy for the Holidays

This is shameless advertising but how else can I tell you about what’s on offer? Big publishers have budgets for promotion and advertising and events and giveaways but us lowly authors (and that’s most of us in the writing game) have to do it all ourselves.

So, to paraphrase that old rhyme,

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Please put a penny in the poor writer’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do

Please buy a book by me and  God bless you!

 

So what have I to tempt you to buy?

Contemporary ebook romances

Love Begins at 40

LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett200

Set in Largs, a small Scottish seaside resort, it tells the story of Maisie, a successful businesswoman approaching her 40th birthday and wondering what’s missing from her life. Will she find it in the quiet town of Largs or is Glasgow a better bet? Is James the answer or is Lenny?

Festival Fireworks  FestivalFireworksbyAnnBurnett200

Young Aussie lass Jill arrives in Edinburgh in Festival time, keen to explore the city and the country. But her next door neighbour, Andrew, seems set on spoiling her plans, especially when she discovers he’s also her boss. Can she still achieve her goals despite Mr Bossy, as she calls him, apparently out to thwart them?

Memoir

A Scottish Childhood; Growing up a Baby Boomer book cover2

My father, a keen amateur photographer, took loads of photos of us as children. I’ve collected the articles I wrote for the late, lamented magazine, Scottish Memories, on growing up after the Second World War and put them together as a snapshot of life in the West of Scotland in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Writing for Children

A Drop of Rainbow Magic 9780955854057

This is a collection of stimulating and vivid stories and poems originally written for the BBC children’s programmes, but with a difference. The children, themselves, are the illustrators. There are pages for them to do their own drawings of what happens in the stories. It’s so important nowadays to give children the opportunity to develop their own imaginations rather than have it fed by computer games, TV and animations.

Short Stories

Take  Leaf Out of My Book leaf-cover-09-16

A selection of prize-winning short stories which illustrate my tagline ‘writer of many things’. From a war-torn country to a city in the near future trying to survive economic disaster, to an inept Glasgow private eye, and a fantasy concerning Scotland’s Robert Burns and a determined fan in a pleated skirt, there’s something for everybody in this eclectic mix.

So buy a book and make everybody happy this Christmas!

 

 

 

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?

A Breath of FreshAyr

FreshAyr opened with a rollicking start last week aided and abetted by various members of Ayr Writers Club, Scottish Screenwriters and many friends and associates.coffee

There were readings and sketches, music and coffee and it all went down a treat. Even the sun shone to help it on its way.

Robert Singer, the powerhouse behind it all, is hoping to develop the area into a creative arts centre showcasing the work of local artists, musicians and writers.general view

Herborg Hansen, the project coordinator, commented that,

the event showed a lot of support from creatives and set an example of what can be achieved by collaborating in reviving Ayr’s culture and town centre.

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Some of the actors in a sketch

FreshAyr is still in its very early stages and is run as a voluntary organisation. But we are expanding and recruiting and before long we hope be a charity organisation that turns café profits into creative action. But we depend on the collaboration from the community and urge people to get in touch regarding future exhibitions, performances or even if people want to get involved in supporting the project going forward.

janiceThere was a lot of enthusiasm and interest shown by the Saturday shoppers in the town who ventured in to see what was afoot.

I did a couple of sessions for kids, one a deliberately noisy session with Miss Hullaballoo  who insisted that everyone, including parents, join in a singalong of Rock-a-Bye-Baby and Sing  Song of Sixpence as loudly as they could.me FreshAyr

For the grown-ups, among others, Jennifer read her award winning story, Magda, Carolyn read a monologue and I met Robert Burns in heaven in my piece. Martin Bone, Douglas Skelton and Gail McPartland read extracts from their recently published novels while other members read short stories and poems.

And we even sold quite a few books!20170805_123554

my booksFreshAyr’s Facebook page is here for further information on upcoming events.

 

A Movable Feast of Writing

The session may have ended for the year for Ayr Writers’ Club but not for the writers. The long summer months stretch ahead with no weekly meetings to inspire, encourage and administer metaphorical kicks up the rear end to us – we need the sustained support of fellow writers to keep us going right to The End of whatever it is we’re writing.

To help us through the dry desert months of summer – another metaphor as Scottish summers are anything but dry deserts – we started the Summer Readarounds when we would meet every fortnight at a willing member’s home. Members would bring copies of their WIP (work in progress) to read aloud and be commented on by the others. Multiple copies are useful as a bit of proof-reading can be done at the same time!  To make it easy for someone to host a get-together, we stipulated that only tea, coffee and biscuits were required, to avoid someone feeling they had to embark upon a version of the Great British Bake-off, and that each member there would pay £2 to club funds.

The meetings have been going very successfully for several years now and there’s never a shortage of members willing to host or wishing to attend. We try to keep the numbers down to around a dozen and this allows everyone a chance to read and have their work critiqued. And also means that there are chairs for everyone!

There has been a recent, very welcome addition in the shape of cake, courtesy of Chris who is determined to undermine everyone’s diet plans. Still, it’s good for the brain they say.

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image – freepick.com

The first of this summer’s Readaround meetings was last week and we had a marvellous selection of writing from members; flash fiction with twist endings, a short story that we recommended be even shorter, (and which the writer has already edited. Kudos Carolyn!)  a novel being turned into a screenplay, part of a memoir which is a prequel to an already published book, a thriller, an article on a suitcase filled with old books from the writer’s childhood (already destined for publication in the local newspaper), a poem and an ongoing saga of self-publishing.

Yes, that last one was me! And yes, hopefully it won’t be long now before I can announce the publication of A Drop of Rainbow Magic, stories and poems (with a difference) for children. Blatant advertising again.Rainbow 2 copy

It’s so useful receiving feedback from other writers on your work as they spot things that you don’t see – typos, repetition, characters doing or saying the opposite from what they said or did previously, sudden changes of location or viewpoint, authorial intervention (guilty!) and what words in a title should or shouldn’t have capital letters. Still working on that one, Gill.

Awards Night at Ayr Writers’ Club

On a beautiful warm May evening, not too uncommon here at this time of year, Ayr Writers’ Club members met for a meal, friendly chat and the presentation of Awards to those who had been successful in the ten competitions run by the club throughout the year.Winners 2017 It’s quite a hectic schedule producing work for them all, as well as for the Scottish Association of Writers competitions and any others that catch our collective eye. And of course, there’s all the work we do for publication in its variety of genres.

I only managed to enter three club competitions this year but was awarded a third in the humorous article (Naked Lobsters and Corrugated Bottoms) and first in the book review. My review was of Les Wood’s hilarious crime novel, Dark Side of the Moon, les woodabout a bunch of inept Glasgow gangsters trying to steal a large and valuable diamond. You can read the review here.

But I was surprised and delighted to be awarded the Dorrith Sim Published Writer of the Year (you can read about Dorrith in my previous blog). Dorrith was one of the first people I met when I joined the club and she was a tremendous help and inspiration as I learned the craft of writing. Winners 2017 AB 02

My publications for the year have included several nostalgia articles on growing up in Scotland, a short story in a woman’s magazine, several brief historical dramas for the Ayr Renaissance project and of course, my collection of short stories, Take a Leaf Out of My Book. Never miss an opportunity to self-publicise!

And so on to our summer break – but we can’t stand the long months till September until the club reopens, so we meet fortnightly in members’ homes for read-around sessions of our WIPs, works in progress. This usually entails an interesting tour of Ayrshire as our members come from all parts of what used to be one large county but is now three smaller ones.

So here’s to a productive summer!

The New Website Is At Last Here!

Here it is! You can breath again. It took a bit of work (mainly by computer literate son – I suspect my mobile phone bill will have rocketed)

RonanAndJools

computer wizard and fiancee

but I’ve (well, we’ve) done it – I think, fingers crossed.

I’ve still got plenty of bits and pieces to add but I can do that at my leisure. Now my main task is to publish my collection of stories for children, designed to encourage their imagination by drawing their own pictures for the book. Even the cover has been drawn by a young friend, Maisie, and very good it looks too.Rainbow 2 copy

And I must do some writing of my own. But whether it will be a short story or a travel article or a piece for children, I don’t know. That’s the exciting bit about being a writer. I sit at my computer and start what I think is an article and it turns into a short story or a poem or the beginnings of a novel.