Chasing Magic

 

At the end of June I spent a fabulous weekend at the quirky Rosely Country House Hotel on a Chasing Time writing retreat. The theme for this particular retreat was ‘Stop the Clock’, with the emphasis on taking ‘time out’ to write.

As soon as I arrived at this gothic mansion, which dates back to the 1800s, I could feel my imagination wake up. Writers Dawn, Elizabeth and Sandra were wonderful hosts throughout the retreat, delivering stimulating and creative workshops. Between workshops we were able to wander around the grounds of the hotel, and used the gardens as inspiration for one of our ‘writing sprints’. I loved that our hosts set up a little ‘library’ in the massive conservatory, with a table filled with books about writing and creativity, that we were all able to dip in and out of throughout our stay. I started to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ and it was perfect timing for me as a lot of the sentiments in this tied in with my last blog post about taking time out to daydream and ‘create’, as well as acknowledging the fear and doubts that can creep in when you try to write.

The beautiful conservatory

I loved meeting the other writers on the retreat – we were all at different stages of our writing careers, with different focuses and styles, but at the heart of every conversation was a passion and enthusiasm for words and creating stories. There’s nothing better than being able to switch off from the ‘real world’ for a while and talk about writing and books.

On my first morning at the retreat I woke up very early, with scenes from my new book tumbling through my mind. I used the free writing time on the Saturday afternoon to map out the first eight chapters (a kind of meticulous planning that I never do!), as well as writing extensive notes about characters. Since returning home I have made a good start on this book and I am so glad I took the time out on this weekend to kick-start the creation.

There was a real sense of calm and quiet in the house. There’s something about old buildings which I find peaceful, perhaps because there is none of the ‘buzz’ of modern appliances. It’s rumored that there are a few ghosts hanging about Rosely. I am almost certain these ghosts were writers,  joining in the fun on the retreat by weaving some creative magic into my dreams.

For any writer out there who is craving a little time away from their busy life, I can’t recommend this sanctuary enough. You can check out the Chasing Time schedule at their website here

I will sign off with a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’:  ‘A creative life is an amplified life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.’ 

Dare to (day)dream

At the end of April I took a couple of days off for my birthday which coincided with what I’m tempted to refer to as the start of summer, but let’s call it a surprise balmy Spring, which allows room for summer still to arrive.

When it’s sunny outside I get the guilt, (I suspect it’s a Scottish one), where I feel the need to go OUTSIDE as much as possible to top up my tan and Vitamin D deficiency. This can make it difficult to write as a part of my brain switches off in the sun, and craves to read instead.

 

And then I remind myself that an important part of my creative process is to give myself permission to read, (and my montage of book photos is just a selection of ones I was gifted during April and May, from other people, as well as myself). My partner treated us to a night away in Anstruther, a beautiful coastal town, where we went for long walks and took our books to the beach, (I’m grateful that he’s an avid reader also, and lets me talk aloud when I’m musing about plot-lines in my own books).  My time-out from real life allowed me to stop for a while and daydream.

Finding time to daydream in a world which wants to keep us constantly switched ‘on’, but not always truly connected is a big challenge. I always have a to-do list swimming around my head, with WRITE SOMETHING flashing at the top, but often tumbling to the bottom to be buried underneath other every-day ‘priorities’. A big part of letting it fall away is allowing self-doubt to creep in, or to allow my practical brain to shout louder than the dreamer in me.

Over the past couple of months I’ve made the time to go out and listen to other people talk about their dreams and creative journeys. Hearing other writers talk about how they started on their journey, and the dips and turns they took along the way, always inspires me to keep going and to keep dreaming, and to be brave – there is an element of just going for it when you’re engaging in anything creative, or starting something new.

I recently visited local writer Anne M. Scriven at her new bookstall, Ardgowan Books, (click to view the website), which is housed within Randall’s Antiques at the ‘Barras’ in Glasgow. It’s a wonderful little sanctuary of books and Anne has such a passion for words, (and people), that it was a pleasure to see her exciting new venture and purchase her memoir, Cadences.

A friend alerted me to the fact that Marian Keyes was speaking at an Aye Write add-on event at the Mitchell Library a couple of weeks ago. This was one of the best author talks I’ve been to. Marian was so entertaining and hilarious, but I was most moved by her honesty about the struggles she has faced in her life. What really struck me was the way writing called to her, and ultimately saved her. She described reading a short story in a magazine and wondering if this was something she could try, with a voice inside asking her to stay around, if only to give this a go.

I think we’ve all got that voice inside us, that part of our creative self who is shouting, trying to make us listen, to ask us to just give it a go, and to give us permission to make time for ‘play’, to daydream and wonder, no matter what form that takes for you – it doesn’t have to be getting lost in words. I think some form of creativity, freedom of expression or play, whatever you want to call it, is so important to keep us sane in this world of responsibilities, and expectations and roles and rules. I’m looking forward to escaping reality for a while next weekend at the Chasing Time writing retreat, aptly billed, Stop the Clock. I can’t wait to take some time out to WRITE.

In my day job as a careers adviser we have been learning about the future world of work, a feeling that we are moving into the 4th Industrial Revolution, (Industry 4.0). Experts predict young people of the future will need ‘meta-skills’ such as creativity, empathy, innovation, and the ability to collaborate. If we allow more time for exploration, for play, and space for experimenting with ideas and making mistakes, then perhaps more people would dare to dream and create something wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Storytelling

A few weeks ago I visited Gleniffer High School in Paisley, delivering a creative writing workshop to 2nd years. The class were very quick to come up with some brilliant ideas. I’m always impressed with the imaginative characters and places pupils create in such a short space of time and love it when they become fully engaged in sessions. We had a fun discussion at the end, joining up their characters and places to develop some brilliant plot twists.

The librarian has decorated the school library with all sorts of wonderful creative displays. I took a photo of some of the Alice in Wonderland ones (below), and the fantastic clock.

This weekend I returned to the annual Scottish Association of Writers conference at the lovely Westerwood Hotel. After adjudicating and leading a workshop last year, it was nice to sit back and relax this year, immersing myself in the inspirational talks and workshops. Lari Don delivered a brilliant workshop on the theme of re-working myths and fairytales, talking about the art of traditional storytelling, (starting the session by telling us a very animated traditional story). I also enjoyed Claire McFall’s workshop about what we can get away with when writing more gritty aspects of YA fiction; lots of food for thought.  Wendy Jones left me in awe with the remarkable adventures her writing takes her on, and she left me with lots of inspiring marketing ideas.

The hotel surpassed themselves this year with the food and inventive drinks. I had to include a photo of one particular tasty dessert and Irn Bru shots below:

One of my favourite parts of this weekend is speaking to a range of writers of all ages and experience. It was great to catch up with old friends, and meet new people. I always find it so reassuring when I hear experienced writers, (with many books under their belt), still go through a crisis in writing confidence every once in a while but always find their way through the obstacles and blocks by focusing on the pure love and the thrill which comes with storytelling.

When I’m surrounded by creative people, with the buzz of stories and ideas crackling in the air, it makes me realise how dull life would be if I wasn’t part of this enticing club of the ‘make-believe.’

My next creative task is to adjudicate the first chapter of a YA novel from members of Erskine Writers. I’m looking forward to delving into the stories.

Have a happy Easter everyone!

A visit to Erskine Writers

 

Earlier this week I visited Erskine Writers group to deliver a creative writing workshop about Young Adult fiction. I spent the first hour talking about YA fiction: what is it, who reads it, why do I enjoy writing it? 

Then I got the group to try a story-building exercise – focusing on characters and their motivations, creating a setting and other aspects, that could fit well with a YA story. The group came up with fantastic ideas and it was great to link all of them together and see a captivating story, set in an abandoned theme park, start to form. The group are going to be writing the first 1,000 words of  a YA novel for a competition, that I get to adjudicate. I’m really looking forward to reading the entries! Thankfully the ‘Beast from the East’ waited for me to return home before attacking.

It meant a lot to me returning to Erskine Writers as I joined this group when I was 17.  A lot of the writers here supported me and built my confidence when I was just starting out. At the evening group we often had authors along as guest speakers and I used to hang on to their every word, hoping that one day I could be telling my story too.

When I was preparing for this workshop I asked myself the question, ‘Why do I enjoy writing Young Adult fiction?’ For me, I enjoy the scope of emotion. Teenagers live in their own world to an extent. They are on the brink of adulthood but don’t quite have the freedom or authority to fully enter the adult world. And yet they can be presented with very adult situations, (breakdown of their family unit, bereavement, exploitation, just to name a few). They have passionate opinions yet can feel ignored or don’t know where to find their audience. Everything is heightened. There is a lot of potential for deep emotion, tension, of ‘finding oneself’ and going on a bit of a personal journey. I think there is more scope for your teen protagonist to be led by their heart and potentially find themselves in difficult situations as a result.

I like to give my characters a sense of feeling empowered, by taking control. In Follow Me and my new book (as yet untitled), my protagonists find themselves at the centre of a mystery, searching for truth. The adults in my books are in some ways the villains by their inability to see beyond the obvious or by not taking the time to seek out the truth, or by their absence in the teens’ lives.

When I think of my ‘teen’ audience I think of them only in terms of wanting to give them a voice (ie.  I don’t try to second-guess what they think is cool, or what is on trend. Ultimately I am writing stories I want to read myself.).  Often as my characters develop in the story I am conscious of wanting teenagers to see that it’s okay to feel a bit lost and feel a bit on the outskirts of life, and hopefully offer some reassurance by exploring some sensitive issues.

When I write my characters I’m ultimately tapping in to my inner teenager. (And I don’t mean the teenage version of me either when I say this, as my characters are much cooler than I ever was when I was 17 – which was a long time ago). I really try to put myself in their shoes, as we always do as writers, and think back to when I was 17 and how I might react if certain situations occurred.

The brilliant thing about Young Adult fiction is that I think these books very much have a universal audience in terms of who might pick up and read your work. From personal experience I know I’ve had 12 year olds enjoy ‘Follow Me’ just as much as their parents, (sometimes grandparents too!). And that’s ultimately what every writer wants really – for your work to be read widely!

As well as preparing workshops, and working hard at my day job the past couple of months, my big focus has been on EDITS, EDITS, EDITS for book 2. The ‘real world’ slowed down due to the heavy snow, and my ‘writing world’ sped up allowing me to hanker down in the evenings, for hours on end to work on my changes. I’ve now sent these through to my publisher and await more feedback. Hopefully there will be more exciting news on that front later in the year.

Bye for now. Keep warm!

 

Year End

On the run up to the end of term I was asked to go in to deliver creative writing workshops at Govan High and Hillpark Secondary in Glasgow. I met with some very enthusiastic 1st and 2nd year pupils who came up with some brilliant weird and wonderful characters and settings when we started to ‘build’ a story together. Weirdly, both groups independently chose an Asylum as a setting – one was a Dental Asylum which was a nice play on words. Neither were places I think I’d want to find myself spending much time in 🙂

I always leave these sessions buzzing as they wake up my creativity too, and it reminds me of the fun you can have with images and letting your imagination run wild. I’m hoping over the Christmas holidays I can make a big dent in the first section of my third book. I’m really excited about the idea and can’t wait to get on with it. I don’t want to say too much about it just now, but it will be another dark story, with teenagers at the centre of it all.

 


Last Saturday I attended the launch of the Oak Tree Arts young writers book, ‘Creative Chaos’, which includes the winning entries from the poetry competition I helped to judge. It was great hearing the winners read out their work to an audience of parents and friends. I loved the fact the woman who runs the group, Sue, asked them to write their favorite books on decorations to hang on their tree. A picture of this and the book is below. You can check out the Oak Tree Arts website here  They meet every Saturday at Abbey Books in Paisley and Sue does a lot to encourage young writers.

Well, that’s me signing off for 2017. It has been a jam-packed year and I was so happy I managed to finish writing my 2nd book. Really hoping I get to bring that out into the world next year. Wishing you all a fabulous Christmas (I’ve already eaten my body weight in chocolate coins!) and here’s to an amazing 2018 x

 

Creative Renfrewshire

Last week was Book Week Scotland. I was asked to deliver some creative writing workshops in Renfrewshire schools as part of their Attainment Challenge and it was great that these took place during a week which celebrates books and reading.

Ultimately it was my love of books which sparked off the desire to create my own stories and imaginary worlds,  and it was clear that a lot of the pupils were under the same spell. When I asked the question, “What does an author do?”one second year boy responded with: “They inspire you to read and write.” 

By the end of my story-building workshops in Linwood High, St Andrew’s Academy and Castlehead I was left in awe of some of the imaginative ideas flowing around the room. I’m hoping the pupils expand on stories which contained magic dice, a character who was tall but ‘small inside as she didn’t have any friends’, a girl with a love-heart birth mark on her nose, a magic bridge which took characters into another dimension and a haunted graveyard, abandoned carnival and a house with magic mirrors. There was a brilliant mixture of horror and humour; each group created aspects of a story I was dying to read.

This Thursday my hometown Paisley will find out if they have won the bid for the UK City of Culture 2021. Over the past year the town has fully embraced the bid, with an extra buzz in the air and some interesting art projects and cultural events popping up. There has been a real celebration of the creativity and talent amongst locals and over the past few months I have met lots of local writers, artists and musicians, all passionate about giving back to the community.

From the imagination and enthusiasm  I saw in classrooms the past week it’s obvious that young people want to be challenged and I think it’s important they are given the opportunity to explore learning in a variety of supportive and interactive forums which encourage creative thinking.  I’m really hoping that Paisley do win the bid so that more funding is given to the town, (which will also benefit surrounding areas), opening up the potential for more projects to engage and encourage young people (and adults) to develop their talents.

I’m going to end this post with some of my favourite photos I’ve taken of Paisley over the years:

The magic of words

The last couple of months have been busy for me. I moved to a new office in my day job, after a year in a promoted post, in August. In August I also had a fun day out in Edinburgh with fabulous authors such as Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye and Roy Gill. We got to spend some time in the Author Yurt at the Edinburgh Book Festival, (thanks to Kirkland’s VIP pass), where we drank lots of tea and ate lots of crisps (authors live really glamorous lives you know). I had to get a photo beside my books in the Festival shop, before then heading off to the fabulous ‘Teen Titles’ party at Central library. Below is a snapshot of my interview in the Teen Titles magazine, alongside a photo of me at the party!

I was interviewed last year by pupils Alison and Freya when I visited their school, Portobello High. I was delighted by their reviews of ‘Follow Me’ in the magazine, particularly as Freya found it, ‘scary, gripping and dark.’

 

In September I managed to escape to beautiful Barcelona for a few days of sunshine, and during the September weekend I attended the inspirational Society of Authors weekend, titled ScotsWrite, at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld. Famous authors such as Joanne Harris, Jane Johnson and Denise Mina delivered key note speeches and helpful workshops. I loved the fact that even after penning loads of books they all still feel a sense of ‘self-doubt’ when it comes to writing.

One of my favourite quotes from the weekend was during Joanne’s talk where she said, “Playing with words is the closest thing to magic we can do. It’s voodoo.” I think this is a beautiful way to describe writing; when a piece of work starts to flow and come together, it does feel like magic. And both Joanne and Jane spoke about the journeys their writing has taken them on, the people they have met along the way, the way their words have led them on adventures and touched different lives. Something which came across was the sheer power that words can have. It reminded me why I write – I want to be part of that magic, of weaving stories into the fabric of the world, even if that world is one built within my own imagination!

The best thing about the past few months for me has been the way in which a book I have been working on for quite a long time, finally came together. And now I am working on the finishing touches to some final edits before I send my words out into the real world (i.e. to my publisher for a read). Watch this space to see what happens with book number 2…