Catching up!

I met up with an old friend in Edinburgh this week.

bernagh

No, we didn’t plan to wear identical outfits!

Bernagh was my producer when I was writing for BBC Northern Ireland. She produced the radio series One Potato, Two Potato which was aimed at children from 7-9 years but actually reached a wider age range than that. I started off by writing stories for her to use in the programmes but ended up being one of the scriptwriters.

It was a very successful series as, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary, a group of us Scottish writers flew across to Belfast for the celebrations. It was good to meet up with the presenters, Libby and Michael, as well as some of the other writers, and of course, Bernagh.

belfast 006

Bernagh with the presenters of One Potato, Two Potato Michael and Libby

Bernagh was asked to produce a series of radio programmes for pre-school children and she wanted me to be the scriptwriter. We took ourselves off to a holiday house in Ballantrae in south-west Scotland where in, of all places, a beer-garden, we put together the series Hurley-Burley.

HB TV 1Initially, there were only going to be six programmes but the series was so successful that we did another three series, 24 programmes in all. From there, it transferred to TV and I wrote the scripts for all the 12 programmes.

But times move on and when Bernagh retired from the BBC, they decided in their wisdom to finish with children’s radio. I think that was a great shame for where else do children have the opportunity to develop their listening skills as well as their imaginations if not from listening to the radio? As the cliché goes, the pictures are better on the radio.

However, we enjoyed our catch-up and our afternoon tea and time flew past as it usually does when you’re enjoying yourself.

Moving On….

Changes are afoot in the Burnett household; we are moving across country to the east of Scotland. A new house, a new town, a new area to explore, new friends to make…

All very exciting but breaking up a home where we’ve lived for nearly thirty years is hard work, both physical and emotional.

My office where I work, has had a good clear out of thirty years of writing.P Pat I’ll keep all my published work which at the moment fills almost an entire bookcase, what with the 250 Postman Pat comic scripts and annuals I wrote, the hundred or so BBC radio and TV programmes I scripted,  the numerous articles on all sorts of subjects I wrote for magazines and online sites, and the magazine short stories published here and abroad. And then there were the many writing workshops I ran and the materials I prepared for them.buckettrippertapes

But as well as the ‘successful’ pieces, there were very many more rejected manuscripts – hundreds of them in fact. For every piece I had accepted, there were ten ‘failures’ which I kept, just in case I could work on them or a market came up which would be suitable or because I didn’t want to throw them out.

Well, I have now. Reading them over, I can see exactly why they were rejected and I tossed them all out –  they weren’t worth saving after all.

I also found my first piece that I entered into a club competition many years ago and received a crit for. The adjudicator had attached a single line of type to my manuscript which said:

Hackneyed. Full of clichés. Subject has been done many times before.

I was devastated when I read that and almost gave up writing there and then. But it taught me a valuable lesson; temper your criticism with kindness and encouragement. Make it like a sandwich with some positive comments at the start, the meat on how the writer can improve it in the middle, and a final positive note of encouragement at the end. When I’ve been an adjudicator, I’ve always tried to do that. The memory of my first crit still rankles!

I’m looking forward to the newness of everything, home, area, friends, and hoping it acts as a stimulus to more writing. But first, there are a few more cupboards to empty. Let’s hope I don’t find any skeletons – or maybe, as a writer, I should look out for them. You never know where they can lead.

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 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.

poem
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