Exposure

Well, November passed in a bit of a blur. I had a couple of really fun events this year during Book Week Scotland. I visited the lovely Strathearn Community campus where I talked about some of my favourite rebels in fiction, the power fiction has to give you a voice, and where I get my inspiration from. The following day I was at West College Scotland, Clydebank campus, talking to students (and some staff!), about the power of books and how a love of reading fired my imagination and inspired me to write. It was great getting to meet enthusiastic readers and talk to them about some of my favourite things: reading, writing, rebels and creativity. These are a couple of photos below from the events:

As well as attending interesting events I was working on more edits of my second YA book, (which is due for release early next year), as well as writing more of my third YA. I’m quite excited about both of these books!

The past few weeks I have been busy working on a different kind of writing project. I’m delighted that my collection of contemporary short stories, many of which have been previously published in literary journals or been placed in competitions, is now available on kindle. You can buy ‘Exposure’ here.

Working on this collection reminded me how much fun I have interchanging between longer novels, and short stories, (sometimes very short stories in flash fiction form). My short stories have more adult themes, and with my flash fiction in particular I enjoy experimenting with more lyrical styles of writing. Working with a shorter form can be just as challenging as novel length as you really need to make every word count.

I asked my talented designer friend, Rebecca Johnstone, aka Dainty Dora (see her website here), to design my cover and I couldn’t be happier with the beautiful result! See below. I have to also thank my Mum for supporting with the edits and technical side of production! (see my writer Mum’s website here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if that wasn’t exciting enough I’m going to be attending a massive Book Fair in Dundee on Saturday with over 30 other authors. I’ll be selling copies and signing copies of my YA mystery, Follow Me, and will also be running a story-building creative writing session for any visitors who want to use their imagination to delve into new worlds! If you’re in the Dundee area come along.

 

 

 

 

7 Books

There’s a challenge going around social media just now to post the covers of 7 books you love, with no explanations or reviews, over the course of a week. I was tagged last week by two friends on Twitter and it got me to thinking about the sheer number of books I have loved over the years, but also the ones that have had the biggest impact on me , or influenced my writing.

So I decided to break the rules, (because really who likes to be restricted by rules?), and post a montage of 7 books which were significant to me in some way, together in the one day. This blog post is going to give you an explanation as to why I chose them. I’ve listed them in the order that I read them.

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy (and all the books that followed) – I was probably about seven or eight when my primary school teacher chose this as a book to read to the class; one chapter at the end of every day. I hope that primary teachers still have the time to do this as some of my best memories at school was having this quiet time at the end of a lesson, where we got whisked away to magical worlds. Any book I loved I then of course went home to re-read myself. I still have this book on my shelf, (the purple cover version as above), and I opened it today to see my name neatly written in the top corner (my handwriting was much neater when I was younger!). This book really sparked my imagination – I loved the idea of being a witch in an Academy of Witches and the concept of casting spells and magic still fascinates me to this day. One of my favourite scenes is when hapless Mildred turns the horrible Ethel in to a pig. Something else I love about this book is the fact that it was illustrated by the author. The illustrations helped to bring this story alive. Lots of books during my childhood deserve a mention, (all of Roald Dahls’s for instance), but the fact I held on to this one made it top the list

The Nancy Drew FilesMurder on Ice by Carolyn Keene – I probably started reading The Nancy Drew Files, (a spin-off series of the originals), when I was about nine or ten. I remember stocking up on these during visits to my local library. Nancy Drew always found herself at the centre of mystery and danger. Her life always seemed so exciting and grown-up, and I remember enjoying the fact she was a headstrong character. A massive influence clearly on my present writing where I love placing teenagers at the centre of mysteries that they are determined to solve, no matter what danger they may encounter along the way.

Point Horror – Funhouse by Diane Hoh –  I was about ten or eleven when I first started to read the Point Horror books. Funhouse is just one of many stories within this series that I devoured. Around this time I couldn’t get enough American teen fiction (think Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club). What I loved about Point Horror was the darkness and mystery, and again this has clearly influenced my writing. This particular book is set at an amusement park on The Boardwalk in California and it starts with the Devil’s Elbow roller coaster going off its track, which the protagonist soon discovers was no accident. If I picked this up in a bookshop today I would definitely still want to read it!

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes – This was a short novel that we studied in third year English, when I was about fourteen. The story always stayed with me due to its emotional impact, and again shows the importance of teachers taking the time to introduce powerful fiction into the classroom. It’s about an experiment in human intelligence, where Charlie Gordon, (who has an IQ of 68), is turned into a genius. He is the first human subject to take part in the experiment. Algernon is a mouse who underwent the experimental brain surgery, and the book follows both of their progress. What I loved about this was the narrative technique used – the story is told through Charlie’s progress reports which capture his naivety then superior intelligence in an emotional and thought-provoking way. It taught me the power of simplistic story-telling and how writers through their own experimentation can create characters which stay with you for a lifetime

White Oleander by Janet Fitch – In my early twenties my Mum gave me Janet Fitch’s, ‘White Oleander’ to read, and, captivated by her lyrical writing style, I made a promise to myself that one day I would become as good a writer as her. The protagonist Astrid and her manipulative mother are drawn so well, with real depth to Astrid’s journey of self-discovery. It spurred me on to keep writing and to keep learning. Every brilliantly written book I read makes me want to better my craft, but something about the timing of this book made me realise it was time to get serious and send my work out into the world

On the Road by Jack Kerouac – Again I read this in my early twenties. I didn’t choose this one because it’s a particular favourite book of mine, (I don’t always fully engage with Kerouac’s erratic writing style), but it was a time where I was reading a lot of fiction and getting excited when I discovered new styles and stories. Kerouac taught me one important rule: don’t be afraid to break the rules. At this point something freed up in my writing – I stopped over thinking my work, and just wrote. And that’s when I truly started to find that elusive ‘voice’ you sometimes hear author’s talk about. The one which takes your writing to a new level, and keeps pulling you on through the doubts

Lastly I had to mention Douglas Coupland as I devoured his books in my twenties. I chose Girlfriend in a Coma as it was the first of his books I read. I love his observational style, and the comments he makes about society in subtle ways through his characters and plot. Often people ask me who my favourite author is and I struggle, because I like to read vast and wide, and I tend to have favourite books, not authors. But at one point during my twenties I would have a confident answer to that question: DC And I got to meet him one year at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Total fan girl moment.

I spent today taking part in the Kids’ Lit Quiz, at the High School of Glasgow, on the author team with Kirkland Ciconne, Annemarie Allan and Alex Nye. The Kids’ Lit quiz is an annual literature quiz where teams of students (ranging from the age of 10-13) from all across the world, answer literary questions. Quiz master, Wayne, comes up with some pretty hard questions. I took part in this quiz a couple of years back and what struck me again today was how amazing the kids are at answering the questions! They really know their literature and that is brilliant to see. They must be avid readers to know the answers to the very wide-ranging questions.

The author team! With Kirkland Ciconne, Annemarie Allen and Alex Nye

I was asked a question a few weeks ago if I think kids still enjoy reading these days, with so much focus on computer games and other digital activities. All I know is that I have been lucky enough to visit many schools where kids (of all ages), still show a lot of passion and enthusiasm for books. They might not shout about it, choosing instead to read quietly in a corner.

Writing this post reminded me how big a part books have always played in my life and the power that words can have to transport you and your imagination into worlds you could only ever dream of.

Events, Books & Writing

Hello! I’m sitting typing this listening to the wind and rain outside, happy to be indoors drinking Early Grey Tea. I had a last burst of sunshine in Italy last month, and since returning home I think Scotland has dramatically descended into Autumn (Winter…) Cue dark mornings, dark nights, and potentially a lot of atmosphere for writing dark fiction.

A couple of very EXCITING THINGS are on the horizon book-wise for me, which I will talk about more in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I am happily working away on my third teen thriller/mystery, and I have signed up to do two events during Book Week Scotland in November. The first event will be at Strathearn Community Campus, on Wednesday 21st November at 7pm. I will be talking to the audience about REBELS in fiction, as well as discussing the power words and imagination have to give young people a voice. The librarian put together a fabulous poster for my event; see below. This is a FREE event but tickets should be booked in advance through Strathearn Community Library, or the Eventbrite page here 

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On Thursday 22nd November at 2pm I will be visiting West College Scotland, Clydebank Campus, to talk to students during their Literacy Week, about the inspiration behind my ideas, what literacy means to me, and how I became a writer. I’m really looking forward to both events! I’m also going to be taking part in a big Book Fair in Dundee at the start of December. I will post more about that nearer the time.

Over the past month or two I have spent some time travelling through to Edinburgh, meeting up with writer friends at the Book Festival, before heading to the wonderful Teen Title Party at Edinburgh Central library, at the end of August. It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of Kirkland Ciccone, who delighted the audience at the Teen Title party by flinging free copies of his wonderful new YA book, Glowglass, into the crowd. Here’s some pics from the party below. (And a shameless #shelfie pic of me posing by my books in the Edinburgh Book Festival bookshop).

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Yesterday I took a jaunt to the Portobello Book Festival, where I listened to my writer Mum, Rosemary Gemmell (link to her website here), talking about the art of writing short stories. My Mum was joined by other writers, Elle Turner and Jane Tulloch, and chaired by Lynsey May. I really enjoyed the walk along the beach front at Portobello before the event.

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It was really interesting to hear their different approaches to writing, and the benefits of writing shorter fiction. I agreed with much of what they said; that writing shorter fiction allows you to experiment creatively, with different styles and themes. I love writing short stories, as well as longer fiction. Flash fiction in particular is a great way to learn the importance of making every word count and definitely encourages me to push myself creatively.  Even although I write teen novels, my short stories are much more contemporary adult themes, and I enjoy switching between the two.

I think one of the most fun parts of being a writer is getting to meet other writers and listen to them talk about their work, and the feeling that we are all a part of one big community.

 

 

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!