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.


Getting there

Another view of the conference from the east coast!

Capital Writers

Two Capital Writers, myself (Kate Blackadder) and Anne Stenhouse, along with two other writing friends, ventured out of the capital this past weekend to attend ScotsWrite, a conference put on by the Society of Authors in Scotland. I say ‘ventured’, because although the venue, the Westerwood Hotel near Cumbernauld, is in theory about an hour’s drive away from Edinburgh, it somehow took us three. We passed through villages we’d never heard of before, and we certainly wouldn’t care if we never saw the one-way system round Falkirk Town Centre ever again. Ever again.

We consoled ourselves by accepting that we operate on the creative side of our brains and couldn’t possibly be expected to have a sense of direction as well. Fortunately we arrived in plenty of time for a very nice dinner, followed by the keynote speaker – Joanne Harris, no less – and our lack of wayfinding…

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I’m just back from a most exhilarating two-day conference, Scotswrite17, organised by a team from the Society of Authors in Scotland, led by Linda Strachan.

Linda Strachan

Linda Strachan

Where do I start? In my best Scots accent, ma heid’s burstin’!

There were keynote speakers, break-out sessions and one-to-one opportunities with commissioning editors and agents as well as Tai Chi, CPR training (in case it was all too much for anyone!) gin tasting and a ceilidh. Mix it all up with over 150 writers from all airts and pairts keen to share their experiences and you have an effervescent, bubbling cauldron that overflowed with opportunities, friendships and fun.

Obviously it was impossible to be at everything but I did my best! Joanne Harris opened the conference after dinner on the Friday with a talk on the magic in and of writing.

Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris at the book-signing

As a child she was shown a library and told that every writer of those books had ended up penniless. It didn’t stop her though despite feeling that she was an imposter and should get a proper job. As she said, If you suffer from imposter syndrome, that probably means you’re a writer.

Jane Johnson on Saturday morning electrified us with her life story. She had discovered that a story her mother had told her about one of her ancestors being taken by Barbary pirates and sold into the White Slave trade could well have been true. So off she went to Morocco (as you do) to research it for a book. While there, she met a man who fitted her mental picture of a Barbary Pirate. Reader, she married him  – and brought him to the conference, where he enthusiastically joined in the ceilidh. Her advice obviously, was to follow whatever your passion is.

jane Johnson

Jane Johnson

I had one-to-one sessions lined up with an agent and a commissioning editor out of the 8 I had a choice from. Dragon’s Den had nothing on this! Each of the 8 sat in a separate booth and we were given precisely 10 minutes to make our pitches when a bell rang and the next person took our place. Fortunately the CPR training was taking place next door in case of anyone collapsing from the strain of it all.

Jane Johnson, this time with her publishing hat on, led a break-out session where she covered what it is that makes an editor fall in love with a book. She read various examples of manuscripts that had grabbed her attention with unusual imagery, or keeping things up the writer’s proverbial sleeve ready to surprise the reader.

Emily Dodds and Mary Hoffman spoke about writing for children and young adults. Finding your own luck plays a part, Mary Hoffman in being sent to interview Richard Adams and giving him her manuscript, while Emily went on a course run by the Scottish Book Trust on writing for CBeebies. This led to her being asked to write for the TV programme, Nina and the Neurons.

Gin tasting followed (and much appreciated) and the fun continued after dinner with the ceilidh. ceilidhTo bed, tired but happy and yes, a cliche but brain dead otherwise.

On Sunday we began with a wide-awake and stimulating session from Joanna Penn talking about how to make your living (i.e. a six figure sum from writing). If only she could bottle her energy and sell it along with her books! And how does she do it? As she says, ‘it’s not about you, it’s about the customer.’ In other words, write what sells and what sells is genre fiction; romance, crime, thrillers etc.

Memo to self: get on with it and stop playing computer games, socialising and generally living.

generalAfter that, a session on mental health for writers chimed nicely with the Tai Chi, the gin tasting and an informal Fitbit discussion over lunch.

Memo to self: must get one as it jolts you into action if you’ve been sitting too long.

Sally Polson, commissioning editor at Floris Books, took us through the steps in producing a children’s book and what they were looking for. A very valuable session.

Memo to self: write, write and keep writing.

Finally, the last session was a group of speakers from the weekend all giving us their top tips for success. And if we all follow their advice, there will be a lot more very successful writers about.

Meeting lots of fellow writers from all round the world (Canada, Panama and Ghana were represented as well as many from England) was all part of the experience as well as sharing of ideas and tips and laughs and friendship. It was intense, and thought-provoking and very, very enjoyable. I hope they do it again because I’ll be there.




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.

And I Thought I was Organised….

I’ve been working on gathering together the articles I wrote for the now sadly defunct Scottish Memories magazine with the aim of bringing them out as a collection. They were written over a period of four or five years and were illustrated by photographs taken by my father, a keen amateur photographer.

I had copies of the magazines the articles were in but where were my originals that I’d written? I needed them so that I could combine them all in one big file prior to publishing them. So I searched among my documents on my computer, especially in one file clearly marked ‘Articles’. Were they there? No.Sc Mem

I discovered one file named ‘Scottish Memories’. Aha! I thought. This is where they are. Well, three of them were. Only another 17 to find. I used the search button, I used Finder, I hunted through iCloud. A couple more appeared. Then I tried my external drive on which I’d gathered all my files from when I switched from a PC (I refused to begin to tackle Windows 10) back to Apple three years ago. Yes there were some more. Eventually I found all of them apart from one. After ages spent looking for it, I gave up and typed it in again.

And if I thought the hours I spent doing all that was bad, then the hunt for the photographs took even longer. The originals are kept willy-nilly and totally randomly in several boxes. When I started writing my articles, I would spend many a happy hour trawling through them looking for the best to go with the topic. I would scan them in and some I would even remember to save on the computer.


The photo boxes and albums

So yes, there were some in the file marked ‘Scottish Memories’, some in iPhotos, some in a file I had called ‘Images’, some in Photos, some in My Pictures…. yes, they were all over the place. And they all had to have the resolution reduced to a figure suitable for publishing in ebook and paperback form. And as for the ones I hadn’t bothered to save, it was back to rummaging through the boxes again.

All this has taken days, weeks even of disorganised searching and foraging, rootling and fossicking, mutterings about what I plan to do with it all in the future, and promises to do better.

Now I’ve got articles and photos together, I ‘only’ have to prepare it for printing and publishing.

And have I sorted everything into organised piles, files, boxes?


I guess I’m not as organised a person as I thought. And I don’t think I’ll change.


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

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.


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 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.


FreshAyr on Saturday 5th August

Exciting things are happening in Ayr right now. Apart from the demolition of empty shops and offices to make way for a new development to enhance Ayr’s riverside, things are afoot in Newmarket Street.Write Around The Corner Outside(1)

Queen’s Court is being developed as a centre for the creative arts in Ayr. It will include a gallery, a meeting and performance room, a cafe and and a shop. And it all kicks off this Saturday!

Ayr Writers Club will be doing a series of readings and performances of their work throughout the afternoon and of course I’m involved.Write Around the Corner Programme Inside

There are four parts to it all. We start off at 1pm with children’s stories and activities, then at 2pm, it’s the turn of the fiction writers where all kinds of tales will be told, 4pm sees the non-fiction writers of memoir and biography taking the stage and at 5pm, fun will be had with live music, stand-up and comedy sketches.

We’ll also be selling our books so don’t miss it!

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