Confined to a Garret? No Chance!

This week has been celebrated as Book Week Scotland when writers all over the country have left their garrets and travelled the length and breadth of the country talking about books and writing and more books and more writing.

My friend Michael J Malone has been touring the west coast talking about his new book, House of Spines. (Cracking great read! I recommend it.) He’s been to Rothesay, Dunoon, Millport, Tobermory and …er…Wishaw. Definitely not on the west coast, that one!

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The Pencil, Largs

For my part, I was in Largs, not as part of Book Week but to do some research for my next novel. It was a beautiful sunny clear day with the temperature just hovering above freezing as we walked along the shore to the Pencil monument commemorating the Battle of Largs in 1263, and then on to the Marina, filled with yachts of all shapes and sizes, mainly parked up until the spring. And there was a very welcome restaurant where we had coffee and Danishes and thawed out before we walked all the way back.

Then it was to Perthshire, and past the Ochil Hills just tinged with snow, to the Auchterarder Book Fair, part of their celebration of Book Week. We set up our stalls, or rather tables, in the hall with our books on display. I was surrounded by historical novels, crime, science fiction and fantasy, and did I detect an element of competition as we tried to attract customers to look at our books and hopefully buy one?books

I was one of the authors who gave a short talk about their writing life, starting with my five years with Postman Pat and moving on to the present day and A Scottish Childhood, and the future with my novel Festival Fireworks.24255073_1980255258879716_3265096166631918755_o

And all this gallivanting doesn’t stop there. Next weekend is the Society of Authors Christmas lunch in Edinburgh where there will be many friends to catch up with and have a jolly, merry afternoon.

Can’t not mention the success at the Imprint Writing Awards of members of Ayr Writers Club. Six members were shortlisted and the club scooped 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the poetry section, (one member winning two prizes) and 1st and 2nd in the short story.  It’s a sign of a very vibrant and talented club and one I’m pleased to belong to.

Shortlisted for Imprint 2017

Shortlisted for Imprint

 

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.

 

The Eyes, Black or Otherwise, Have It

I’ve mentioned before the importance of letting other writers read what you’ve written, of having another pair of eyes peruse your work, and I can’t stress it enough.

I’ve been working on revising a novel I wrote a few years ago  which is set in Edinburgh, and which I really didn’t do much about after I finished it, before I moved on to something else instead. (Bad habit of mine!) Recently, I dug it out from my extensive ‘back catalogue’ and sent  it to a friend who happens to live outside of Scotland for her to read and comment on, and I’m very glad I did.

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Steps leading up to an Edinburgh Close

Firstly, factual things in the book that were clear to me as I’d visited Edinburgh often and know it well, didn’t make much sense to her, particularly where people live. Tenements, several storeys high, have a common entrance which leads up stairs to two or three apartments on each landing. These are common throughout the city (and in fact, much of Scotland) and are often beautiful buildings with a long history dating back in some cases in the Royal Mile to the seventeenth century. They are very desirable properties indeed and change hands for large sums. But all this I’ve now had to explain much more in my book, especially as I’m aiming at an American publisher.

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Even the back of Edinburgh Castle is built as a tenement!

And then there was the question of motivation for the male protagonist’s behaviour. That set me thinking. Why exactly did he waver in his feelings for my heroine? What had happened in his past to make him behave in such a way? I needed to know much more of his backstory to justify it. So I’m intent on sorting that problem out too.

I was also working on a synopsis for the book which I took along with me to the latest club read-around. Reading it aloud to an experienced audience was illuminating. Not only did I ‘hear’ what was wrong, the group were quick to pick up on points that weren’t clear as well. More for me to improve before I even think of sending it off.

I was sporting an extremely fetching black eye at that meeting, having tripped and banged my face on the pavement outside my home. I spent a night in the Accident and Emergency department to ensure I didn’t have a head injury before I was sent home to recover.

Food for thought again, this time very thankful that I live in a country where, when illness or accidents happen, we don’t have to worry about the cost of care, drugs, operations and tests. It is all provided by our wonderful, if much maligned NHS. Yes, it’s short-staffed and underfunded and sometimes in danger of collapse but as an idea, a concept, it is the best thing that this country, or any other, has ever put into practice.

So the eyes have it, whether black or my normal colour, and I’m very grateful too!

A Drop of Rainbow Magic

A Drop of Rainbow Magic is now available on Amazon!

 

Rainbow 2 copy

The book is a collection of stories and poems for children, with a difference – they are the illustrators and they draw the pictures, making it very much their own book. And to emphasise that aspect, the cover has been designed by a young friend, Maisie Craig.

back page

Read about the caterpillar who was forever grumbling or the teacher who made more noise than all the children combined; what about the gang of grannies and grandpas who created havoc in a supermarket or how the wee shy mouse eventually made friends? There are counting poems and poems about a smelly granny and the noises you hear when you’re lying in bed or sounds you can’t hear at all. There’s something for every child (and adult!) in the book.

But why a book like this? If you add up all the visual impact of computers, xboxes, tablets, white boards in school, TV, cinema etc etc, it comes to a staggering amount of time that children are subjected to some kind of visual input. Their visual sense is  dominant over all the other senses, especially that of hearing, of listening.

pageThink back to your own childhood and the time you were given, free from that dominance. You listened to stories told by your family at bedtime, you listened to stories read by the teacher, you even listened, if you’re of that age, to stories on the radio rather than TV. You read books, sprawled on the floor, curled up on a chair, out in the garden or park but all that time, you were busy creating your own pictures in your head. ‘You ‘saw’ the pirates coming in to the attack, you ‘saw’ the princess dancing in a dress of your imagining, you felt their fear, their happiness, – in essence, you were there.

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Now it’s all done for you, for the child. They aren’t getting a chance to exercise their own imaginations, to make their own pictures. That skill has been taken from them and it’s missing from their lives. Their imaginations are being driven by what others have decided to produce, to draw, to animate.

My book is a way of developing the child’s own imagination. Each story has space where they can draw what they ‘see’ in their mind’s eye. So the pictures are uniquely theirs.

Many of the stories I wrote originally for the BBC children’s programmes on radio and are specially designed to be listened to and which have been updated and revised. As a bonus, these stories also encourage children’s listening skills, another area where today’s children are lacking, as all teachers and parents know only too well.

How to Use the Book

Read a story to the child or let them read it themselves if they are of an age to be a confident reader. Let them get to know the story by reading it several times. Talk about what happens in the story, what are the funny bits, which bits they liked best, which bits would make a good picture. But whatever you do, make sure it’s fun!

Then let them have free rein as to what they want to draw. They don’t have to stick to the picture frames for their drawings; they can draw in the margins or the top or the bottom. It’s their book, let the pictures be what they want. Over time, they may add bits or draw further pictures in the blank pages at the back or wherever they fancy. They’ll end up with a book that is uniquely theirs.

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(c) Maisie Craig

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.

Lest We Forget

Last week I was at the book launch of my friend Gail McPartland’s first novel, Code 998. Set in Nazi Germany, it tells the story of a young, gay doctor whose Nazi fiance sends her for rehabilitation to cure her of her homosexuality. It is not an easy read, in fact the crime writer Douglas Skelton has described it as ‘moving but terrifying stuff.’gail

Although Jewish persecution by the Nazis has been given much deserved attention, what happened to gays, Romas and political prisoners also demands recognition for the suffering they went through at the hands of Hitler’s regime.

Gail spent much time researching her topic and spoke to many survivors of the Holocaust. Howard Singerman, of the Gathering the Voices project, spoke of his family’s experiences and read a poem he’d written for his mother. Libby, the daughter of another dear friend, the late Dorrith Sim, was also there and has done much to carry on her mother’s work in telling her story to those unaware of the atrocities carried out at that time.

Dorrith was only seven years old when her mother put her on a train out of Germany, the Kindertransport, to carry her to safety in Scotland. She never saw her parents again. They perished in a concentration camp.

dorrithDorrith’s book, In my Pocket, is a picture book for children telling her story in terms that young children can understand and appreciate. During her lifetime Dorrith visited many schools to tell her story to the pupils.

Nowadays, many younger people are quite unaware of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and those who have first hand experience of it all are concerned that, as they grow older, there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their stories. Gathering the Voices, along with these books, are sources to ensure that it is never forgotten.

Lest we forget.

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.

 

New Website Coming!

 

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Peaceful scene to keep me calm and meditative while I do it.

I’ve been working on changing my blog to a website to replace the, frankly, very outdated one I presently have. It remains out of date because the CD I originally used to develop it has been corrupted and I couldn’t get in to update it.

And when I did get in with the help of a computer literate son, I found it was way beyond me, having forgotten what I did then and lost the instructions to boot!

But I haven’t found this new one easy either. I’ve had to contact various WordPress ‘happiness engineers’ (sounds like something out of Disney) to help and they have pointed me in various directions and shown me what I should do. The person who writes a step-by-step guide for idiots on WordPress websites will make a fortune.

Ok, I know there are a lot of you computer whiz kids out there who will be having a quiet snigger at my attempts (probably all under 20 years old though I know of one very savvy lady of mature years who could knock the lot of you into cyberspace and yes, Chris that’s you). For the rest of us ordinary computer punters it’s a case of getting help where and when we can.

All(!) that I now have to do is to take down the old website and transfer the new one over to that host (which happens to be the afore-mentioned son and he gives me it for free) so watch this space. Don’t hold your breath whatever you do, as I may be some time.

Hopefully, I’ll see you all there!

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.

Deadlines, Dreadlines

 

The deadline fast approaches....

The deadline fast approaches….

There’s a great quote from Douglas Adams on the Ayr Writers’ Club website:

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

I love deadlines too but for different reasons; I need them. I do very little writing unless I have a deadline of sorts. It can be a date for a competition entry, an editor’s request (whoopee do!), something to finish before we go off on holiday/go into hospital/start a different piece of writing or whatever. If I have a date which I know I have to finish the piece by, then I will make sure I do.

But the deadline can’t be too far ahead. Too far and I leave it till it comes looming nearer. There comes a point in the calendar when I know that if I don’t start the piece almost immediately then I won’t do it well or get it finished to my satisfaction. I have to wait till then before I start though I will be thinking about it as I go about dealing with weeds or making a meal. (That is not to be recommended; too many burnt offerings and odd flavourings.)

I’ve had two deadlines recently, one for a local competition which I always try to support by putting in an entry, and one from an editor giving me the go-ahead for a pitch I submitted a while ago.

Deadlines scare me too. I don’t like being late for anything and I don’t like sending off pieces at the last minute. I always try to get them in well ahead of that date circled on the calendar, so the two pieces have been sent off in plenty of time.

Being ahead of a deadline has given me some nice extras – editors don’t like last-minute, unreliable contributors. They like writers who can produce the goods well within the time frame and  matching what they asked for. So if there’s a rush job (usually because one of their less reliable writers has failed to complete the remit), who do they turn to? Someone they know who can do it.

I’ve been asked to write scripts and articles with a very short deadline simply because the editor knows they can rely on me to do it.

Many years ago, I was asked to try out for a children’s comic for which I had been contributing stories. They were looking for someone to take over writing the Postman Pat stories as John Cunliffe, the originator of the character, wanted to concentrate on the TV work. I had to write two trial scripts and submit them by a deadline. I sent three well before the due date and got the job. That resulted in five years of a weekly income and over 300 stories about Postman Pat in the weekly comic, the holiday specials and the annuals.

And what did I write about? What my family, including my two young sons got up to. So if we went to the library or planted seeds in the garden, so did Postman Pat and his friends. My husband shaving off his beard was the stimulus for one of Pat’s friends to do the same! I have actually a record of our day-to-day activities when my sons were in primary school.

However, I learned one salutary lesson from it all. Obviously I was excited about getting the job of writing Postman Pat stories, so when my eldest came home from primary school, I told him the news. His face fell. I realised then that he believed in Postman Pat the same way as he believed in Santa and I had just disillusioned him. He never read any Postman Pat stories again, dismissing them as ‘just Mum’s stuff.’

And as for that children’s story I was drafting several blog posts ago….. well you see, there isn’t a deadline for that……

Excuses! Excuses!

Must do better. Somebody set me a deadline, please!