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!

pencil

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

 

Spot The Deliberate Miss-Take

I designed some new bookmarks to publicise my recent books, ordered a large number and was pleased when they were promptly delivered.

Two days later (and yes, it took me all that time) I spotted a typo on them that I’d missed. To say I was furious is an understatement. I pride myself on my ability to spot an error in a manuscript at ten paces but I had totally missed this one. And not only that, despite reading and admiring them over the two days, I still hadn’t seen the mistake. bookmark

I had made some last minute changes to the wording and in a rush to get the order away in time for the various book fairs coming up, I hadn’t paused to calm down, put on my proof-reading hat and read the wording carefully. I even signed the disclaimer saying I had checked the spelling etc and was happy with everything!

Now all I can see on the bookmark is the typo. It jumps out at me whenever I look at it.

Why is it so hard to proof read your own work? Why can’t we see our own mistakes, yet can spot other people’s right away? Because we read what we think we wrote, not what our clumsy fingers actually typed. Other people’s work is new to us and we don’t have those preconceptions so we read what is actually there and thus spot the typos.

I got some friends to read over one of my books for me and what they picked up that could be improved was quite astonishing. And of course, once I’d had them pointed out to me, I couldn’t miss them.

And I’m probably not as good as I liked to think I was! I once sat a proof-reading test but failed miserably after failing to spot a huge spelling error in the second line!

So one of the morals of this sorry tale is always get someone else to read what you’ve written, no matter how short. But failing that, don’t rush, take your time, go and have a coffee and then come back to it.

However, I remembered the story I heard of how the weavers of those beautiful Persian carpets always wove a tiny mistake somewhere into them as they believed that only Allah was perfect and we mere mortals are imperfect. Googling it, I discovered  that such a belief is common in a variety of religions. In North America, the Navaho Indians always weave an imperfection into a corner of a rug as that’s where the spirit moves in and out of the rug.

The Amish quilters apparently also share that belief.

“One of the first bits of wisdom imparted to a novice quilter is that the Amish, who make some of the most simple but exquisite quilts in the world, purposely plan a mistake into each of their projects because they believe attempts at human perfection mock God.  Of course, any quilter knows that you don’t have to plan for imperfections in your work; they come quite naturally on their own, so I don’t know if this bit of Amish folklore rings true or not, but the idea does.”

from A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick

As a knitter and cross-stitcher, I can tell you how hard it is to create perfection and all my pieces have mistakes in them somewhere and not deliberate either.

So perhaps I should be kinder to myself and not rail about one small typo which could well pass unnoticed by most people.

No prizes for spotting it on my bookmark either!

Excuses, Excuses….

I know it’s been too long since I wrote a blog piece but I’ve been busy getting ready for going on holiday, being on holiday and recovering from going on holiday. It’s all hard work you understand!

But I’m back and I’ve run out of excuses so I’m about to throw myself back into writing. I missed the first two nights of Ayr Writers’ Club new season (see above for my excuse) and I should be at Michael J Malone’s launch of his latest book, House of Spines, tonight but I’ve run out of steam. (More excuses.) However I’ll catch up with him and his new book later.

I’ve my book of articles on growing up in the West of Scotland after the Second World War to sort out. I’m stuck because there are apparently hidden text boxes in the manuscript and the powers that be at Lulu (the company I use to publish my books) don’t like it. And I don’t know where they are. I left it there when I went away, hoping, ludicrously, that it would have sorted itself out by the time I got back, but of course it hasn’t. So I will have to search all the forums to see if anyone else has had that problem and what they’ve done about it. I also posted a question on Lulu’s help-desk but the reply I got only took me back to the information site I’d already read my way through.

Part of the problem is that I work on Mac Pages and export to Word.

In the meantime, here’s the photo of me I’m going to use on the cover, once I get that far. You’ll see I haven’t changed much over the years. front of book

I bet there’s a few of you out there had a pair of Clark’s sandals like mine. A new pair every year in time for summer. And no comments about the knickers please! Remember everything was hand-made in those days so no doubt they were cut down from my granny’s old ones.

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.

actors

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.

edinburgh close

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.

edin castle

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.

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

Killer Heels and Lunch to Die For

killer heels & lunch to die for 090617Is it off-putting listening to two lady crime writers read about a gruesome murder in Glasgow and digging up skeletal remains in Orkney while in the middle of a delicious lunch? Surprisingly no. In fact I immediately bought the books in question and had not a pang of indigestion either.

Alex Gray and Lin Anderson were the crime writers and they kept an audience of ladies who lunch (and one gentleman) enthralled over their starters and main course. It was an interesting experience but a great idea; have a starter, then listen to an entertaining speaker followed by the main course and another equally fascinating speaker.

Alex Grey read from her latest DS Lorimer book, Still Dark. Lorimer is traumatised by aalex gray scene he witnesses one Hogmanay and struggles to return to duty in order to solve his latest case. Glasgow is again the setting for this intriguing addition to the Scottish crime genre.

Lin Anderson‘s main character is forensic scientist Dr Rhona Mcleod, who travels to Orkney in Lin’s latest book, None But the Dead, to investigate the uncovering of human remains on the island of Sanday. As I’d visited Orkney recently I wanted immediately to read it and experience again in my mind those fierce winds which are a constant feature of Orkney life and which can make a forensic investigation more of a battle against the elements.Lin Anderson

But Lin and Alex have another claim to fame as well as being prolific and rightly celebrated writers of crime fiction; they were the founders, six years ago, of Bloody Scotland, a crime fest of magnificent proportions, celebrating the genre at its best. It is held in the historic town of Stirling and begins with a Gala Opening in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle, where many of Scotland’s kings and queens resided.bloody scotland

Over dessert and coffee, the audience could digest (along with the lunch) all the funny stories and information Alex and Lin had delighted us with in their talks. Their research skills are impeccable, both having studied for a Diploma in Forensic Science to enhance their knowledge of crime scene investigations. Both had been teachers at one point in their lives (Lin on Orkney) but had given up their careers to forge new ones as crime writers.

Killer Heels and Lunch to Die For was organised to raise funds for Hansel Village, a community for people with support needs. They are looking to expand their work with young adults and this lunch would go some way to achieving their aim.

lin and alex

Lin Anderson on the left and Alex Grey on the right.

Kirsty from Waterstones was in attendance to sell Alex and Lin’s books afterwards and she did a brisk trade. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in aid of a good cause.

Volunteering at the Boswell Book Festival

The Boswell Book Festival, held at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, is the only festival of biography and memoir in the world and I’ve been to it many times and enjoyed every visit, but being a volunteer exposed me to all sorts of different experiences from what I expected.screenshot

I met loads of lovely people, even a blast from the past as a former colleague put it when she approached me, stroked an 8ft Burmese python called Richard, was the first customer in the new Hayloft cafe and stood beside Nigel Havers as he waited to go on stage on the opening night.

I took tickets at the venue doors, directed guests along the necessary one-way system as Dumfries House wasn’t designed for masses of people trooping along its corridors, and sold tickets for the children’s festival. It was such a delight to see so many kids keen to listen to their favourite authors and buy their books. There were plenty of events to keep them occupied too.

pythonKirsty’s Kritturs had brought along a variety of intriguing creatures that had the children slightly cautious at first but then enthusiastically holding giant cockroaches, patting the Egyptian Uromastyx (or lizard to you and me) and peering in at the tarantula and the scorpion. And of course, stroking Richard the python. He was soft and quite cold so wasn’t really enjoying what passes for early summer here.

The speakers were, as usual, excellent. We were able to attend the events we were working at so I heard Alan Johnson MP deliver his usual insightful, funny and totally self-deprecating interview about his life, from a child in a London slum to being Home Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government.

Richard Ingrams, formerly of Private Eye and now of the Oldie discussed with New Zealander Paul Tankard, the role of James Boswell in journalism and the state of it today with fake news and loss of freedom of speech.alan johnson

And Robert Crawford spoke most interestingly of the poet TS Eliot and his biography of his early life. There were many other speakers that I didn’t manage to see (there are over 60 events crammed into a weekend) but whose books I will probably buy.

Nigel Havers and a play on the life of Joan Eardley the painter, bookended the festival and both were fascinating in different ways and provided a satisfying beginning and end to the 2017 festival.

Would I do it again? For sure! It was quite hard work at times but so well organised that we did manage to have breaks in between events. It is quite a logistical nightmare to ensure that everything runs smoothly, that speakers are ferried to and from airports and train stations, that the audience gets to the right venue (there are six different ones) and that the speakers’ books are on sale.  Kudos to the Waterstone’s staff who rose to the occasion! And of course the organisers themselves, who are, like us, volunteers and do it for the love of it.

Roll on next year!

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!

Taxing Reading

It’s that time of year when I have to dig out my bulging file of receipts, invoices and payments for the last 12 months and start getting them into some sort of order prior to filling in my tax return online.

One of my biggest expenses is that for newspapers, magazines and books. We read a lot. A huge lot. So much so, it is not considered a luxury but a necessity. Books, magazines and newspapers are an essential like bread, potatoes and Green and Black’s chocolate (preferably dark). Where would we be if we didn’t have something to read? bookcase

We get the Herald delivered every morning so that I can read it over breakfast. I must have something to read while eating my muesli. The tablet is no use as it ends up all sticky and doesn’t absorb the drips and if it does, it’s in trouble. No, it’s got to be the newspaper. I read it through, timing it so that I reach the last page just as I scrape the final grains from my plate. At elevenses, I turn to the puzzle page and try a variety including the sudoku (hard) and the kakuro. I don’t often solve them but that’s not the point. It’s the doing that counts!

Mondays are different. They’re Wee Stinker days. A fiendish crossword on the back page devised by Myops which requires all hands to the tablet and sites like one look.com for filling in the blanks, Andy’s anagram page for the anagrams, and as a last resort when I’m absolutely stuck, Crossword Help forum‘s Wee Stinker page. Sometimes I manage to finish it but again that’s not the point. It’s my brain gym for the day.

On Saturdays, we buy two (yes two) bulky newspapers which keep us going for the rest of the week. A quick read through at the weekend and then the rest of the week for in-depth reading.

At least we can recycle old newspapers but it’s the books which are breeding fast in the house. As I said, they’re a necessity and like all readers find, it’s very hard to get rid of them. We did try kindles and we still use them for holiday reading. Much easier than trying to pack enough books for the whole time – we are quick readers – but just not the same. I don’t seem to remember having read a book when it’s on a kindle and have found that I’ve gone and bought a paperback copy of one that I already have read. Still, it has meant that there are less books to find storage for as one wardrobe is filling up fast!

And Michael J. Malone, your book’s in the wardrobe as it’s just been read! It will be promoted to a bookshelf once a space becomes available. The NHS may have bed-blocking, we have book-blocking.wardrobe

I don’t understand people who don’t read. Look at what they’re missing! And what do they do with all that spare time?

No, books, magazines and newspapers are a necessity. And a tax allowable expense, fortunately.