Society of Authors Christmas Lunch

It was off to Edinburgh on a clear, very cold morning for the Society of Authors Christmas lunch. As the train travelled up the coast towards Glasgow, I could see the Isle of Arran glittering in its light dusting of snow. The quiet, peaceful scene was soon shattered when we reached Glasgow and its hordes of shoppers already out looking for Christmas bargains.view arran

The train to Edinburgh was packed. Were they all going there to shop? What was wrong with the Glasgow shops? Or were the trains going the opposite way also packed with people coming to Glasgow to shop? I sat beside a lovely young Polish family, the two girls practising their knowledge of the language while writing and drawing. They were very talented young artists so I couldn’t resist handing over a couple of my bookmarks and suggesting they buy A Drop of Rainbow Magic where they could be the illustrators of the stories. Never miss an opportunity – that’s my motto!

Edinburgh is a city of stairs and steps and we climbed the Scotsman Steps, all 105 of them to reach our venue in the Royal Mile, the Radisson Blu hotel, reputed to be haunted!royal mile

Lunch was a constant babble of voices as we chatted and caught up with friends, but not a ghost was to be seen, fortunately.hotel

Two of my fellow Tirgearr authors were there and they filled me in on what to expect as I went through the processing of editing, launching and publicising my book. (Festival Fireworks in case you’re asking, out in March 2018. And set in Edinburgh too.)lunch 2

Self-publishing, virtual book launches and book and craft fairs were other topics I learned a lot about from speaking to other authors and I came away with plenty to mull over and swot up. lunch 1

And Scotrail decided that after all that lovely food and drink, we would need some exercise to walk it off. So after climbing down the Scotsman Steps again to Waverley Station, we crossed and recrossed the station trying to find a train going to Glasgow that wasn’t cancelled. Third time lucky, we squeezed into a carriage and set off home.

Why is it that the trains to and from Ayr to Glasgow are long, comfortable with plenty of seats and lovely views while the trains between the two main cities in Scotland are much smaller, cramped, packed out and liable to be cancelled there and then? Or is that a question for another time, another blog?

But we all had a lovely day and many thanks to the President Linda Strachan and her committee for organising it all. Here’s to the next one!

 

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!

Writer of Many Things

My tagline is A Writer of Many Things, and last week showed me exactly why I called myself that.

Winners 2017

Ayr Writers’Club Trophy Winners 2017

I gave a workshop on writing short stories to fellow members of Ayr Writers’ Club where I tried to get them to produce some of the various elements like character, voice, dialogue and conflict, that go to make up a short story. If nothing else, it provoked quite a bit of merriment as they attempted in pairs to have their characters meet as strangers in a public place, especially when they had to read out what they’d written to the assembled company. But hopefully there was a germ of a short story in some of them that they can work on and enter in one of the many competitions around.

I was just recovering the next morning when the competition entries from Largs Writers’ Group landed on my mat. I had spoken there about writing for children (see my blog) and set them to write me 1000 words of a children’s story, stating what age range they were aiming at. And what a lot of work some of them have put into their entry! There were drawings galore for the picture book entries and many even set out their text as they would in a picture book. Others had aimed at older children and boy, were they scary. There are some excellent stories among them although as I have only read them all through once, I can’t decide yet who the winners will be.

And a week or two ago, I heard that my novel, Festival Fireworks, had been taken up by Tirgearr, an Irish publisher selling mainly to the American market, and will be out in March. It’s a romance, not my usual genre, but then what is, and there will be editing and proofreading to keep me busy till then.

Meantime, I’ve started another romance novel, seeing as how I should strike while the iron’s hot (a cliché I know but I can’t think of what else to say!) and anyway, it’s NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I won’t say how many words I’ve managed so far but at least it’s a start.

Book Week Scotland is at the end of the month and a group of us are up in Auchterarder in Perthshire for their Book Fair. I’ve been making sure I have plenty of books to take with me to sell and designing bookmarks to hand out.

So I’m definitely a writer of many things, which I thoroughly enjoy. After all, a change is as good as a holiday. (Not another cliché surely!)

 

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.