A social media post caught my eye last week in which someone mentioned they had been gifted an appointment with a Bibliotherapist in a book shop. Curious, I started to do some research on google and came across The School of Life bibliotherapy service (see here), where you can book a consultation with a bibliotherapist who will ‘explore your relationship with books so far and your unique reader identity will be sketched.’ Dream job, anyone?
Other sites relating to psychology and therapy go into detail about the more formal practice of Bibliotherapy being used as part of a structured psychiatric treatment where creative storytelling and the selection of specific texts are prescribed. The recognition that writing and books (and other forms of storytelling) can have a positive impact on mental well-being is something I think is so important. In past creative workshops I have often discussed with the groups how writing can give them a voice, and how books can open up worlds and introduce characters that can help them to feel understood, or offer new perspectives, or simply just provide some much needed fun and escapism if they are having a bad day!
A visit to a welcoming bookshop can be just as enjoyable as the experience of reading. At the top of my post is a photograph of one of my all-time favourite bookshops, Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I first visited here back in 2012 on a solo trip to Paris where I stayed around the corner. The bookshop is full of lots of interesting nooks and crannies, including alcoves with typewriters and walls plastered with pinned notes from visitors around the world. During one of my visits a teenage girl played a haunting tune on the piano upstairs and I remember sitting in the room, surrounded by books and strangers and thinking I could stay there forever.
During the summer I have visited some lovely bookshops a bit closer to home, where I’ve enjoyed chatting to the passionate owners and booksellers (about books, and also writing and publishing!)
I am sure they are offering their customers a good dose of Bibliotherapy on a daily basis without even realising.
I’ve posted photos and links to the bookshops below.
What’s your favourite bookshop?
If you can’t visit the bookshops you can still support them online by placing a book order via their page on Bookshop.org:
Recently I’ve hit a bit of a creative slump so for my birthday a couple of months ago I asked for a copy of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. I’d always wondered about this book and my curiosity was piqued further when a recent article (in the May issue of The Writing Magazine) featured an interview with Julia Cameron, and she spoke about her recommended practice of writing ‘Morning Pages’, where you write down a stream of consciousness on three A4 pages every day before you do anything else. This is just one practice and task Cameron recommends in order to kick-start your creativity, or in my case, try to get ‘unstuck’. In the opening, Cameron describes the book as a ‘toolkit’ for artists, and, ‘as they (readers) learn to take small risks in their Morning Pages, they are led to larger risks. A step at a time, they emerge as artists.’ The book is divided into ‘weeks’ like you are undertaking a course, with new themes and tasks introduced each time, but what stays consistent is the suggestion to complete your Morning Pages daily, and once a week set time aside for ‘An Artist Date.’ This isn’t a suggestion that you hang around gallery openings asking for artist’s phone numbers. This date is with yourself, where you set proper time aside to engage in something creative, or at least an activity you enjoy, alone (the alone part is very important).
I’d like to say after delving into the book about 5 weeks ago that I have shown impeccable discipline, but I’ve not. I am averaging about three morning pages a week, and often this is typed into my notes pages on my phone as I travel by train into work. I get up at 6.45am the mornings I’m travelling into work and I’m not a morning person so I was loathe to set my alarm 20 minutes early (as it tends take about 20 minutes to pen three pages). For me, that was going to set me up to fail at the start, and would defeat the purpose of making this something I would hopefully enjoy, and something that would energise me.
So now my morning pages often turn into late afternoon or evening pages, and it’s probably missing the point of ‘clearing my head for the day’, but it has thrown up some very interesting musings and I often use my pages to reflect on why I’ve been feeling blocked. I have to say I am failing on the regular artist dates too but I have slowly started to set more time aside to enjoy and explore all sides of my creativity (not just writing) which is really important to me as it does really help me switch off from the distractions of daily ‘noise’. My pen drawing at the top of this post was a result of one such ‘date’, and I also finally read through a book I bought from the GOMA years ago, called ‘Art From Elsewhere’, which features 70 works by International Artists, selected by curator David Elliot. I particularly liked the photos ‘Girls in Cars’ by the artist Shirin Aliabadi – you can read a short article about her and her photography here.
Sometimes I feel I waste too much time scrolling through social media (don’t we all), but then I remember the fascinating accounts, such as Humans of New York, that I follow, and how there is so much inspiration to be found in ‘the every-day’. This is something I know; finding inspiration everywhere is a big message I thread through a lot of creative workshops I have delivered, but I seem to have forgotten of late. Noticing small things in life was mentioned in one of the chapters of Cameron’s book and I do think there have been so many ‘big’ unsettling things happening in the World of late, it’s easy to let that noise dominate. And it’s easy to tell ourselves we have so many important day to day responsibilities to carry out (which, let’s face it, exhaust us,) that we don’t have time to be creative and frivolous.
Recently I remembered someone from my past connecting with me on facebook years ago when my debut novel came out, who said to me, ‘Oh I see you wrote a book. I plan to do that one day but right now I’m far too busy.’ I felt like replying with the response I’m sure many writers would like to respond with, ‘Newsflash. We are all too busy, but if you really want to do it, you will make the time.’ Guess who I’m actually writing that message to now? Though as many writers know, having time is just one aspect of what holds us back. For me, being productive is very much about getting into the right mindset.
One of my favourite tasks so far in the book has been to write a letter from me at eighty to myself (with the prompts – what would I tell myself? what dreams would I encourage?). At first I struggled with this but then I quite liked eighty year-old me; she got quite sassy as the letter went on. It got quite personal, but I wanted to share part of it, because it’s probably something all of us need to hear sometimes:
Eighty-year-old me told me those times when I look at other writers/artists, whatever, and think I can never be that good, they’re so much better than me, they’re out there being so successful her response was, They’re not better than you. They’re braver than you. And if I look up when I’m eighty and all I see on my wall is some god damn modesty medal you won in your forties I am going to be very mad and hide it in a box of regrets. I want to look up from my armchair and see a wall covered in awards and certificates or at least some kind of photographic evidence that you have continued to put yourself out there, and celebrated your creativity and talents.
I hovered over that word ‘talents’ and nearly deleted it. But I didn’t. So I guess I’m half-way on my way.
In a well timed run-on from my last post about social media allowing users their 15 minutes of fame, here is mine. You can follow this linkto read a feature in my local paper, the Renfrewshire Gazette, where I talk about my YA mystery Promise Me and why I enjoy writing for teenagers.
Last month I was also delighted to be tagged in a great review for Promise Me. I’ve put an image of this below but it is worth visitng Rachel Sargeant’s site for other great thriller reviews here. Rachel’s thrillers are now on my TBR pile!
The past week I had a nice break from work, visiting St Andrews, Anstruther and Crail. The sun kept shining most of the time which was a bonus. Highlights were browsing in Topping and Company Books, having a wander round Crail Pottery and sampling the infamous Anstruther fish and chips (some photos below).
Now it’s back to reality and I’m trying to get words down for a new book I’m working on. Scenes keep popping in to my head, which is great, but none of them are in any logistical order, so I am wondering if I should deviate from my usual linear book writing process and just see where it all takes me!
When things slowed down during lockdown this was a question that played on my mind. As a mix of a ‘social’ and ‘thinking’ introvert’ I very much need solitude to recharge and give me time to get lost in my thoughts every once in a while. You can see a definition of four types of introversion in this article here. There is a line at the start of the article which states, …’extroverts…thrive in highly stimulative social environments’. I would say I often do too, but only if you give me enough balance to hide away when I want to, and have time for much needed introspection.
The break from the norm over the past couple of years made me realise how loud the world can be. Morning commutes on public transport where so many commuters think we all want to listen to whatever they are watching/listening to on their phones (last week I was treated to a recording of a student’s lecture on the way to work). And then there is the open plan office environment which can quickly descend into a pit of noise. I did really begin to miss the social interaction of office life (and it is very important in my service delivery to clients), but I am still so grateful for moments of quiet on busy days where I need to focus on research and tasks. I wouldn’t enjoy my job if I didn’t enjoy meeting and engaging with people, but on a recent training workshop I was reminded that the level of ‘active listening’ I do in my day job can be tiring! And some quiet time is so important.
Talking to young people throughout lockdown also gave me new sympathy for those who actually breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed escaping from the over-whelming ‘noise’ and social interactions in schools, and those who had left school were grateful for some new options where they were able to log in to online courses , taking the pressure off if they were having a bad day and didn’t want to leave the house. There is the other side of the coin of course too, where lack of social interaction and ability to have the freedom to live life was not welcome.
I also have sympathy for the growing expectations from employers in interviews, with assessment centres (when in person), often incorporating group tasks and role-play scenarios (do extroverts even enjoy these?).
I’m not saying a ‘quiet’ world is necessarily preferable over a loud world; but it would be nice to sometimes have more of an equal balance.
In my writing life I am forever grateful for the skills I developed when training to become, and then work, as a careers adviser. Writers I suspect often fall into the introvert category, as we need time and space to escape into our own imaginative worlds, and the work by nature often requires sitting alone in solitude. (I’m saying ‘often’, as I know some writers actually prefer to sit in cafes with some background noise and people around.)
When writers then release their work out into the world, there can be the expectation to magically turn into a ‘performer’; talking and presenting and delivering engaging workshops in front of multiple audiences. I soon got lots of practice of how to be a ‘performer’ in my early years as a careers adviser where I had to hold the attention of teenagers during multiple talks and workshops. Fast forward to my debut novel release and I suddenly realised how lots of my skills transferred when I put on my ‘author hat’ to engage with young people. And even if the thought of standing in front of hundreds of young people is still nerve wracking, each and every event has been enjoyable – even the one where the IT system broke down just as I was about to deliver a power point presentation to the whole of second year. (Another thing I learned from the day job – always be prepared to adapt pre-prepared sessions!)
Even the way writers engage with audiences online is becoming much more ‘extrovert’ and ‘performative’. Writing blogs such as this is something I enjoy, and I think used to be more of a ‘thing’ in the writing community. Now this form seems over-shadowed by visual and spoken content on Instagram, Youtube channels, Podcasts and of course #Booktok. I referred to TikTok in a previous post where I talked about my hesitancy of this world. I like the idea of trying to put together creative videos (and I am a fan of ‘visuals’ as well as words), but not when it’s me talking to the camera!
Every time I watch TikTok or read about social media ‘influencers’ who have millions of followers, I can’t help thinking about Andy Warhol’s quote ‘In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes’ (you can read an old post of mine where I talk about how Andy Warhol’s philosophies influenced my YA mystery Follow Mehere).
These days I think it’s more like fifteen seconds, Andy.
At the moment I’m currently watching Inventing Anna on Netflix. This drama series is inspired by the New York investigative article by Jessica Pressler, (read here), which explores the story of Anna Delvey (Sorokin), a young woman who fooled Manhatten’s elite into believing she was a German heiress socialite, and managed to scam hotels, banks and various people along the way. I remember when the story broke a couple of years ago I was desperate to read the book My Friend Anna, (written by one of Anna’s ‘friends’ who found herself caught up in one particular hotel scam), to find out more about this brazen con-woman.
Reading about, and now watching, Anna’s exploits reminds me how compelling real-life stories can be. And how it can be difficult to determine what is fact and fiction when others try to re-tell, or present, a story. At the start of every episode of Inventing Anna is a quote along the lines of, “This whole story is completely true, except for all the parts that are totally made up.” If this series had been presented as a documentary I can’t help thinking that quote could still apply, as we would always be viewing Anna’s story through the lens of someone else’s perceptions and edits. And if Anna releases her own story how will anyone be able to trust what is actual truth, considering the fake persona she presented to the world, and the multiple lies she spun?
The three Young Adult books I have written are all inspired by real-life stories in the news. Headlines often catch my eye, but then my imagination takes over and I then create a story of pure fiction. The above image contains real headlines that I remembered reading. The numerous reports of the unexplained Bridgend suicides stayed with me for years .There were twenty-six known suicides in the town between 2007-2008, and most of those who lost their life were young adults. I remembered opening newspapers at the time, wondering what on earth was going on in that town.
In my book Follow Me my 17-year-old protagonist, Kat, begins a desperate search for answers and explanations, after her twin, Abby, is the sixth in their small Scottish town to die by apparent suicide.
A big theme of my new YA book, Promise Me, is the way in which press coverage and social media has the power to portray a certain narrative during high profile, emotional murder cases. One of the inspirations of the story was my memory of the sensationalist press coverage of convicted Scottish teen Luke Mitchell from many years ago. From 2003-2005 there was lots of press coverage around his case. Demonising language and character assassination was often used in reporters’ narratives (see above headline: ‘Devils Spawn’).
The headline ‘Boyfriend, 15, charged (with murder of schoolgirl Jodi Jones)’, was published in the Edinburgh Evening News, (2004) before said boyfriend (Luke) even went to trial. Everyone in their small-knit town knew he was ‘the boyfriend’.
The paper took things a stop further and named him. The Press and Journal, Aberdeen, also ran a similar story. They faced contempt charges but were cleared of breaching the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act, that states “no newspaper report of any proceeding in court should identify anyone under the age of 16.” (In Scotland this is now 18). They were cleared of charges because judges ruled that the story was not a report of court proceedings. This is just one troubling example of how a fifteen-year-old boy, (and throughout his trial when he was sixteen), dominated headlines. Numerous false ‘facts’ were published about the case, and tabloids delighted in running sensationalist reports about Mitchell’s apparent obsession with knives, drug-taking, lack of discipline in a single parent household, even linking his music tastes to the murder.
I have read a lot about the case and it made me realise how easy it could be for a small community to spread rumours relying heavily on hearsay and perceptions of a local outcast boy’s ‘reputation’, and how this could influence local prosecution investigations, and a jury. Conversations I’ve had with legal people where I questioned how anyone could truly be impartial in such a high profile case said a judge would have ensured jurors had no local connections to the case. The trial took place in Edinburgh, less than half an hour away from where the murder took place. I was reading newspaper stories an hour away from where it all unfolded and still felt emotional reactions to the reports, even if I didn’t personally know anyone.
When I first started to write Promise Me, a friend told me to watch documentaries about The West Memphis Three, teenage boys convicted of murdering young local boys in Texas. They were later freed after the initial documentary Paradise Lost caught the attention of high profile musicians and celebrities who joined the fight to prove their innocence. (Interestingly the documentary makers through trying to disprove what they perceived as a false narrative about the accused, then nearly created their own false ‘villain’, due to the way they presented another local in interviews throughout Paradise Lost!)
In court proceedings much had been made of the West Memphis ‘ringleader’, Echols’ interest in heavy metal music, preference for black clothing and interest in Wicca and the occult, and his unstable home life. Like the Mitchell case, no concrete evidence linked the boys to the murders.
My book Promise Me is a work of fiction, set in an affluent fictionalised Scottish village, and not about the Mitchell or Memphis case, but I hope it makes people think about how damaging media and indeed, court narratives can be, and the damaging perceptions that communities can sometimes have of young people who don’t quite ‘fit’.
I’ll leave you with a short overview and extract from Promise Me: (available to buy here)
Sixteen-year-old Christian Henderson is convicted of murdering pretty local girl, Louisa, at a Halloween party, with online forums spinning stories of what happened that night. When teenager Darcy moves to their wealthy local village she befriends the inner social circle at school and strikes up a friendship with Christian through letters, determined to uncover unanswered questions around the conviction.
But when threats begin, Darcy realises someone might be prepared to do anything to hide thetruth.
After a long Christmas holiday where I switched off from everything; the day job, writing and general real life stuff, I found it quite difficult emerging from my chocolate coma and finding my new year mojo. Going cold turkey and banning myself from eating anything from my Christmas chocolate basket, starting from my first day back at work, didn’t help matters, though the will is strong and I have stayed away….
I’ve found it hard to get back into my writing, spending far too much time over-anlaysing my work, (in a critical way that always kills the creativity), and dithering about what to focus on next.
When I saw a post on a facebook writing group the other week with a quote from the musical drama, tick, tick…BOOM!, I decided to watch the film. (Warning: if you read on, you’re going to find out Jonathan’s ending.) The film is based on the autobiographical musical by play write/composer Jonathan Larson. The story follows his life where he is waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 whilst writing what he hopes will be ‘the next great American musical’. On the run up to his 30th birthday, and a very important make-or-break showcase, where a musical he has devoted eight years to writing and re-writing will be performed, the pressure is ON.
I like seeing/reading stories where you get a glimpse into the way writers and artists torture themselves as it makes me realise we’re all a bit mad to put ourselves through so much emotional turmoil, but it kind of goes hand-in-hand when you’re passionate about creating art and trying to connect with an audience. This film sees Jonathan experience all the torture; self-doubt, procrastination, crippling writers block, comparing himself to other successful creatives (listing famous song-writers who had ‘made it’ well before the age of thirty). There is a sense of panic running through the narrative for Jonathan, that time is running out (which is sadly prophetic). He feels crushed when the musical he invested years in doesn’t quite work or make the impact he had dreamed of. (And the performance at the showcase was amazing, which again is a cruel reminder that you can be the most talented creative, but if your story doesn’t quite fit what the industry is looking for, it could be passed over time and time again).
The quote that brought me to the film was from Jonathan’s agent, who consoles him when things don’t go the way he hopes, with the words: ‘You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on, and on…that’s what it is to be a writer…You just keep throwing them against the wall, and hoping against hope that something eventually sticks.’ For Jonathan, something eventually did stick. Six years later, his musical Rent began its run on Broadway for twelvesuccessful years. But to say Jonathan got his happy ending has a tragic finality to it, as he died the morning of the first performance. That was a gutter punch moment of are you kidding me??
And it made me think, thoughts I know I have expressed before in posts. How much time do we waste letting self-doubt hold us back, being too afraid to put ourselves out there, worrying about our audience, giving up after rejections, criticism…or sometimes never even starting because we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, or this is not good enough. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it never will be. But you never know who might read your words and feel a connection. Jonathan left behind words and music that will reignite every time someone new connects with them.
Something I’ve missed during covid times is the lack of (face to face) connection with other writers and readers. Even although things have started to slowly re-open, at the moment I’m still not a fan of spending much time in crowds. (Travelling on a busy train and subway into my day job which is public facing often makes me crave time away from people in my downtime just now) I have recently dabbled in Tik Tok as a way of ‘connecting’ with readers and writers, but in a lot of ways Tik Tok confuses and depresses me, and goes against all of my introvert tendencies.
So I still feel that my life is missing a lot of those natural connections and the buzz you get from ad-hoc, unexpected interactions with other writers talking about projects and ideas, hearing writers perform their work and tell their stories, or getting immediate feedback and interaction from readers at talks and workshops.
There is nothing quite like a young reader seeking you out at the end of an event to tell you they were up to 2am the night before finishing your book, or that your words have made them want to read more and write. A work colleague delighted me recently by telling me Promise Me was the first book she had read since high school and she loved it and it kept her turning the pages, making her want to read more again.
It’s often those little sparks of realisation that my words have made a connection that keeps me believing in the magic.
I love that the darkest day has such a magical and soothing name, with a list of rituals and celebrations that focus on light illuminating the darkness and letting go of fears and focusing on a fresh start ahead. At a time where staying optimistic feels challenging, any focus on positive and simple rituals gets a thumbs up from me.
So today on the Winter Solstice I will be lighting some candles, cranking up the Christmas lights, reading a good book, maybe watching another really bad Christmas film (A Castle for Christmas on Netflix is truly special), running a bath, eating home made lasagne, and stealing some Christmas chocolate (it will be replaced!!),
Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, I hope you find some comfort in small rituals that make you happy. Much love to you all.
November has been a busy month. In amongst re-adjusting to life back in a busy office in my day-to-day life, I’ve enjoyed connecting with writers at a couple of events.
I’m in the middle of judging a teen short story competition for Erskine Writers group, where I delivered a workshop last month. Erskine Writers was where I first shared my work in public many years ago, and it’s lovely to return to lead workshops.
A couple of Saturdays ago I delivered an online workshop to the Teen Igniting Writing group (part of Wokingham Libraries), talking to a group of young people about what makes a good Mystery/Thriller. I was blown away by some of the extracts they read out of their own work, and had fun answering questions and talking about mystery books we love, (as well as telling them where my inspiration for writing mysteries comes from). I was very grateful to my school friend, Elizabeth, (or Lis as I know her), for organising this amazing session as part of her role as Young People Outreach manager. I don’t often get to engage with teens outwith Scotland, and I think one benefit of lockdown was the realisation online connections can be a positive way of reaching wider audiences/providing wider access.
One young person asked me, “What compels you to write?” It’s a good question, and one that has been circling in my head since. On the day I think I said it was ultimately my love of reading that sparked the desire for me to create my own stories, and I love seeing a story unfold and characters take over, which is all true.
But ultimately I think there is something deep within us all where we crave to connect with one another, and make sense of the world around us, and storytelling in all of its forms allows us to do that.
I was invited to a wonderful session last Saturday at Greenock Central Library as part of Book Week Scotland, celebrating creativity and writing within Inverclyde, organised and led by Writer In Residence, Katharine Macfarlane (who is an amazing Slam Poet. I am currently reading her poetry collection Home Words – it is full of beautiful imagery. You can buy a copy here).
Katharine is so enthusiastic about creativity and has got me involved in amazing events in the past, working with young people in Inverclyde. I grew up in Inverclyde, and previously worked there for ten years as a careers adviser, so it will always be a place I feel connected to. During this particular session I really enjoyed meeting other local writers and hearing them read their work, as well as finding out about future projects. Martin O’Connor, the Inverclyde Artist in Residence, also generated interesting discussion about how we all engage in some form of storytelling every day.
Some of the general discussion about Storytelling, and all of its forms, again made me think about how important it is for voices to be heard and that writing, (or spoken word), is a really powerful way we can encourage people to express themselves and tell their own stories.
In other news Promise Me is now available through wider distribution, both in digital and paperback formats, World Wide. It can be ordered into Waterstones here
Tomorrow I am having an online celebration for the launch of my new YA mystery Promise Me. Anyone can join the facebook page to take part in giveaways and watch some videos/find out more about the book!
Follow the link here: to the page … and this link takes you to the platforms where you can purchase Promise Me
One of the most exciting things on the lead up to the release of a book, (I think anyway), is getting to see your cover come to life. I am delighted today to ‘unveil’ the front cover of my new Young Adult mystery Promise Me which will be released at the end of the month.
I think my talented designer friend Rebecca Johnstone, (check out her Dainty Dora website here), has done an amazing job of putting together a dramatic and eye-catching design. I gave Rebecca a rough outline of what I wanted, then Rebecca worked her creative magic to pull it all together. It was a fun, collaborative process and it has been lovely to commission a friend to work on such an important part of my book.
~ Here is a teaser blurb for Promise Me~
When threats begin, Darcy realises someone might be prepared to do anything to hide the truth…
Following the separation of her parents, seventeen-year-old Darcy moves with her mum to a wealthy Scottish village which hit the headlines when a local girl was stabbed at a Halloween party two years previously.
Darcy always wondered about Christian Henderson’s conviction of murder, fascinated by this attractive misfit and his story.
Much of Christian’s trial took place online, before he even reached the courtroom, with witch-hunt style podcasts and online forums spinning stories of what happened the night of the party.
Darcy befriends the inner social circle at school and strikes up a friendship with Christian through letters, determined to uncover unanswered questions around the conviction.