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…

Who, what, where, when, why…

The five ‘Ws’ – asking important questions – was a technique I remember being taught in English in school, when we were writing journalistic style reports, and when we were attempting to write creative stories, to give a structure and a framework. When a story is forming in my mind these ‘Ws’ spin around and intertwine as the characters and plot all come together.

These questions take on a new meaning when a story is published and released out into the world…

Who might be reading my words? What are they thinking? Where might my book have traveled? When am I ever going to finish my next one? (soon, my friends, soon). And why did someone choose to read it? (Because they know me? Because they like the blurb? Because they like the cover?…)

A couple of months ago I was on holiday in Paris and I donated a copy of Follow Me to one of my all time favourite bookshops, Shakespeare and Co. This is a picture below of the newly added cafe, which is next door to the bookshop. (The bookshop was very busy, so it was difficult to get a good picture outside which didn’t include a crowd of tourists…).

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I first visited the shop three years ago and I remember when I was browsing the bookshelves thinking it would be nice to have my words and my name tucked in beside some literary heroes. I wonder if my book is still nestled on a shelf here, or if it now lives in a house in Paris, or somewhere else in the world…

Later that month I then went to a gig in Glasgow, where the band Counterfeit, headed by the actor Jamie Campbell Bower, was playing. I handed a copy of my book to the security guard, asking if he could give it to Jamie (there’s reason behind this, which I might tell you one day, if you ask me). Now I wonder if he actually did give it to him, and if Jamie read it? Or if the security guard took it home himself, or perhaps left it backstage for someone else to find…

A few weeks ago the librarian from Clydebank High, (where I visited earlier in the year), very kindly emailed me a couple of comments from members of the school Book Group, Scarlett and Lauren, who read Follow Me. Scarlett’s comment highlights the great thing about book groups, they get your book into the hands of readers who might never have thought it was something they would enjoy! It’s always nice to know that pupils have taken the time to read my work after I have visited a school. Here are the comments below (with a slight edit to Lauren’s, so as not to give away too much about one of my characters…).

“Was given Follow me to read for my book group. Wasn’t keen on reading it, because I don’t like this particular genre, so glad I did, it was so good. Liked Kat a lot she just seems normal, all the characters are great.” 

“Really looking forward to other books by Victoria Gemmell. Loved this book. Related to the characters,….  Liked Kat she was so believable , couldn’t put it down and finished it very quickly. Loved the style, I have no criticism.”

I’m going to finish this post with a link to an audio reading of one of my short stories, Only You, which was a runner up in the Weegie Wednesday short story competition. The story was read by an actress and recorded for broadcast on the Glasgow Hospital Broadcasting Service. You can listen here   It’s nice to know that my words aren’t only read, but heard too. I loved the fact sound effects brought this particular story to life.

 

 

 

 

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!