An Inspirational Weekend

Last weekend I attended the Scottish Association of Writers Conference at the lovely Westerwood Hotel, in the outskirts of Cumbernauld. Writers Groups from all over Scotland attend and the weekend is jam packed with adjudications of writing competitions, workshops and our key note speaker this year after the Saturday Gala dinner was the hilarious comedienne Helen Lederer (who was so down to earth and lovely).

This year was extra special for me as I was delivering my adjudication of the Short Story competition (aimed at 12-16 year olds), as I mentioned in my last post. I was first up on the Friday evening after dinner and it was quite a nerve wracking experience having to stand up to deliver a writing adjudication in a room packed with writers! It was brilliant to see the reaction of my placed entries and hear the winner read out her story beautifully. As the entries were anonymous I was delighted to hear some familiar names being called out when I announced the winning titles and pen names.

I really enjoyed listening to the other brilliant adjudications from writers such as Keith Gray, Kirstin Zhang, Gill Hoffs, J. David Simons, Regi Claire, Michael Malone, Sheila Templeton, Myra Duffy, Ann Burnett and Sue Reid Sexton. I also attended great workshops delivered by Keith Gray – another YA author, (He has written around 22 books! Amazing! Something for me to aspire to), and the Crime Writer Michael Malone. I found Michael’s workshop very reassuring, as like me he is not much of a planner when it comes to plots, so inevitably there comes a point in the book where you sometimes get a bit stuck, and panic and wonder what on earth your characters have in store for you next. It made me realise I need to stop being such a perfectionist with my second novel and to keep going and get it finished.

On the Sunday morning I delivered a workshop called ‘Inspiration Everywhere’, talking about techniques and creative exercises I have used to generate ideas and inspiration, finishing off with a creative writing exercise where I got the group to ‘build’ stories. I loved the imaginative characters and settings everyone came up with – it was a brilliant way to end the weekend and left me keen to get home to get stuck back into writing.

During the week when I was back at my day job I did a stint ‘on the ground’ as a careers adviser again, delivering guidance to school pupils at Park Mains High School. The librarian of course remembered me from when I did my author event there from earlier in the year, and I was delighted to see she had included a postcard of ‘Follow Me’ in her display of books in the library, and she also asked if I would chat to a 1st year pupil who had read and loved my book (which of course I was delighted to do!). Both of them asked me if I have another coming out, so again a big nudge for me to get cracking… This is a photo of part of the display below…

On Thursday evening I attended the launch of Alex Nye’s historical novel ‘For My Sins’ at the Byres Road Waterstones. Alex has written some brilliant books for children and I’m really looking forward to reading this historical novel about Mary Queen of Scots. A few people at the launch were saying how much they loved the cover, and I have to agree it is a great one!

Tomorrow evening I have been invited to a launch of 2nd year stories at Inverclyde Academy where the brilliant author Cathy MacPhail has been a writer in residence. The librarian at the school kindly invited me along and I’m really looking forward to the event.

Events and Adjudicating

At the end of January I visited Park Mains High and Paisley Grammar School to talk to pupils about writing and inspiration. I loved the fact a couple of pupils in each school stood up to introduce me and then thank me at the end – it was a really nice touch and I know how nerve wracking it was for the students to get up in front of their peers to do this. One girl even took the chance to tell the audience how much she had loved Follow Me and told them all to read it. I couldn’t have asked for a better host! It was also great when some pupils stayed behind to ask me more questions, and also tell me about current work they were writing. One girl let me read one of her poems that she had saved on her phone which I was very impressed with. Being able to engage with teenagers in schools at events such as this is one of my favourite things about writing for a teen audience. One of the librarians also was kind enough to email me some feedback about what the pupils enjoyed most from my visit. Some of my favourite ones were:

“That she told us never to give up

 I liked how she is a local author and she was relatively young so could relate to our experiences.

 It has inspired me to write my own stories.

 Vikki’s book really inspired me to write my own book.”

Knowing you can have some impact in the writing lives of young people is amazing. (The comment about me being ‘relatively young’ also gave me a good laugh).

This afternoon I am heading off to the Westerwood Hotel for the weekend where I will have the chance to socialise with lots of great writers at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference. I was delighted this year to be asked to judge one of their Short Story competitions – the Livingstone Open Competition where stories had to be aimed at 12- 16 year olds. I will be delivering my adjudication this evening after the dinner. I have spent the past couple of months reading over the nineteen stories and really enjoyed this task.

I think you can learn a lot from reading other writers work and it makes you think more about what makes a story really great. For me, I love stories which can provoke emotion and have characters who draw me in. I’m looking forward to delivering my results this evening and hope the winners will be at the conference so I can find out who they are! (all stories were anonymous).

On the Sunday morning at the conference I will be delivering a creative workshop titled ‘Inspiration Everywhere’. One of the tasks I will set the group is suggesting they try the Small Stones creative exercise. I really enjoyed doing this during the month of January. My day job has been quite stressful the past few months and I find it really hard getting enough head space to immerse myself in long pieces of writing. I loved the fact this exercise kept my creative brain operating and it has already made me think of how I can develop some of the ideas into stories. You can read my Small Stones over at my creative blog Through the Looking Glass here

Renfrewshire School Events

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Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to my first school visit of 2017 on Tuesday where I will be visiting Park Mains High School to talk to pupils about inspiration and writing. Then on Tuesday 31st I will visit Paisley Grammar High School to meet pupils there. I love meeting readers at school events and some pupils have taken the time to message me on Instagram over the past week to let me know how much they enjoyed reading Follow Me, which always makes my day!

To kick-start my own inspiration and imagination in 2017 I have decided to re-visit a little creative exercise called ‘Small Stones’ which I tried way back in January 2014. The idea is you have to make a conscious effort to: Notice One Thing Each Day, Give Your Whole Awareness To It, then Write it Down.

You can read my efforts from 2014 here over at my more personal, creative blog, Through The Looking Glass. I’ll be posting up my 2017 results over on this blog at the end of the month.

Watch this space for photos and updates from my school events.

Oak Tree Arts launch party

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Yesterday I had a fun morning at Paisley Central library where the Oak Tree Arts Writing Clubs were launching a collection of their short stories, titled ‘The Oak Tree Chronicles’, which also features the winning stories of the ‘My Paisley Adventure’ competition that I helped to judge.

It was lovely to meet three of the prizewinners, Amy, Mollie and Basia (pictured above with myself). 1st prize winner, Isla, was unfortunately unable to attend.

All of the young people  read out extracts of their stories in front a large audience of family and friends which was a really brave thing to do! I still get nervous reading out my own work. Before the launch kicked off the kids got to decorate biscuits and came up with very festive designs. Susan, the creative writing tutor of Oak Tree Arts, put a lot of work into the launch of this book and I think it’s great that she gives up her Saturday mornings to run the clubs, which meet at Abbey Books in Paisley. You can find out more about the Oak Tree Arts writing groups here and there is also a link to buy the publication on the site.

A couple of weeks ago (how time flies!) my Mum and I were featured on the talented writer, Kristen Bailey’s, Christmas blog, sharing my Mum’a amazing recipe for trifle, along with our memories associated with this. You can read the post here

I love the fact myself and Kristen first connected through social media and that Kristen got her first book deal when she entered a competition I shared on Facebook. Say what you want about social media, it has all sorts of powers for bringing people together in positive ways!

Hope you all have a lovely festive break. I’m looking forward to kicking off some book events in the New Year at a couple of local high schools, Paisley Grammar and Park Mains.

Merry Christmas!

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Some photos from Book Week Scotland

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My fun during Book Week Scotland a few weeks ago kicked off with a joint event with my Mum at Port Glasgow library where we both got to talk about the impact libraries and reading had on our writing. My Mum always encouraged me to read widely from a young age and championed and encouraged my writing so it was lovely being able to share ‘the stage’ with her.

The day after, I visited Largs Academy and spoke to a very enthusiastic group of 1st (and 3rd) years. I love this photo taken by the librarian as it captures the fun energy and enthusiasm the pupils demonstrated throughout my talk. They asked me lots of questions and I was delighted when so many of them came up to tell me all about the stories and books they have been writing. And they tackled the flash fiction task I set them with no hesitation. A brilliant event!

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The next day I visited Clydebank High where I spoke to 4th years and some seniors (who were proudly wearing their Book Week Scotland badges). I got the group to start building a story together then I had lots of fun reading out their flash fiction pieces at the end. I always love to hear the characters and ideas that form in such a short space of time. The photo below captures some of them at work. Another great group.

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At the end of the week I escaped to Arran for a couple of days where I saw some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. A great end to an inspiring week!

Book Week Scotland

 

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Tomorrow is the start of Book Week Scotland, which is a week long celebration of books and writing. It takes place every November and this year I’m delighted to be taking part in an official Book Week Scotland event tomorrow evening at Port Glasgow Library from 5.30pm to 6.30pm with my writer Mum, Rosemary Gemmell. You can see the event details online  here  And here’s a picture of us, with images of our books below!

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I have fond memories of my Mum taking me along to Port Glasgow library, (albeit in a different building!), when I was young. I could easily spend hours rifling through the books, trying to figure out how I was going to decide which ones to take home with me this week, and which ones to leave behind for next time. It will feel a bit surreal now returning as an author, getting the chance to read from, and talk about, MY book. It’s really special doing a joint event with my Mum too as she has always been my biggest inspiration and has always been so encouraging of my reading and writing, introducing me to a magical world of words.

My fun at Book Week Scotland doesn’t stop there… on Tuesday I’m really looking forward to meeting some 1st year pupils at Largs Academy and then on Wednesday I will be meeting  4th year pupils at Clydebank High.

I love meeting readers and I was delighted to receive a lovely message the other week from a pupil I met a while back at Eastwood High called Nicole who told me that I had inspired her to read more. This is why events such as Book Week Scotland are so important. So many authors across the country will get the opportunity to talk to audiences about the wonder of books, and the joy of writing. I am sure during some events it could spark enough inspiration to encourage a whole new generation of writers to release their words to the world!

I’ll post some photos of the events soon.

 

A visit to Portobello High and my 1 year Book Anniversary!!

 

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This is a long overdue post about my visit to Portobello High a few weeks ago. I was made to feel very welcome by the school librarian, Andrea, and a highlight of my visit was being interviewed for the Teen Titles magazine by two 2nd year pupils, Alison and Freya (that’s a photo of us above). The girls were given my book, Follow Me, to read over the summer and I was delighted (and relieved) to hear that they both really enjoyed it. Alison even told me it was now her favourite book; that’s the biggest compliment a writer can ever receive!

They both asked me great questions, (which you will get to see in the Teen Titles magazine), and made it a really fun experience for me.  We also had a sneaky ‘off the record’ chat at the end where I told them what the original ending Follow Me had been, before I decided to go back to change it. They also got to hear a bit about my new book, (that I am still working on just now), and talking it over encouraged me to finish it as soon as possible. That’s partly why it has taken me so long to update my website, as I have been using my ‘writing time’ to actually edit and write my book for a change!!

After my interview I delivered a talk to a hall full of 2nd years and even although my power point failed I had a great time telling them about my writing journey, and I got them to start building their own story.  This is me with some of the pupils afterwards, below (I was having a bad hair day that day – it’s windy in Edinburgh!)

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It was a really fun afternoon and I was delighted to receive a lovely card from the school a few days after my visit – some of the pupils took time to write comments in the card which put a big smile on my face!

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It is also my 1 YEAR BOOK ANNIVERSARY this month. This has been one of the most exciting and jam packed years of my life so in some ways my launch night feels like another lifetime ago, and in other ways it feels like it was just yesterday. Here’s a little montage of photos from the launch:

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I’ve got an exciting time coming up in November during Book Week Scotland where I’ll be doing an event at Port Glasgow library, Largs Academy and Clydebank High. Details are all on the Events page on my website. I’m particularly looking forward to the event at Port Glasgow library as I will be doing a joint talk alongside my writer Mum, Rosemary Gemmell. My Mum has always been so encouraging of my writing growing up and has been a big inspiration so it will be great doing a writing event together.