Creative Storytellers

Last Thursday on World Book Day I visited Loudoun Academy to speak to third years about the magic of reading and writing.

As I was putting together my presentation beforehand I felt an old part of me come back to life. This was my first in-person creative writing workshop since pre-lockdown times (my last one in a school was February 2020, a month before the world shut down). Being ‘back out there’ made me realise how much I had missed connecting with a live audience.

The best bit of workshops is when I set the pupils a writing task and they come alive with ideas. My wish at school workshops is that I leave the participants feeling excited by words and it was great to see the pupils scribbling down ideas, (in some cases half-written stories), and chat to one another (and me) about characters and plots they planned to develop. I know from continued contact with the school library assistant that a lot of them have kept writing their stories and it is great to see. And nothing beats the buzz of walking in to a room and seeing a member of the audience half- way through reading your book (a teacher in this case) and then getting to chat to them about it afterwards.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that the past couple of years have brought changes that have felt unsettling and unpredictable, and just when the world was trying to snap back to some kind of ‘normal’, economic pressures have created even more unpredictability. In a fast-paced performance driven society I hate how we often don’t give each other or ourselves enough permission to slow down and catch our breath. This is a stressful time of year for many people in education and I love that schools allow pupils time out to participate in workshops like this. Being able to get lost for an hour or so in your imagination and being allowed to daydream has never felt quite so important and delivering this workshop was a big reminder to me how important expressing yourself creatively can be, and how it can bring so much joy, without needing to have any kind of measurable outcome.

Think about how you spend your downtime (and what helps you unwind). So much of that is connected with creative storytelling; whether that is getting lost in a book, laughing with loved ones recounting silly events, becoming absorbed in a compelling TV series of film, listening to uplifting music, playing a complicated computer game, seeing a photograph or piece of art or creating art that makes you feel.

I think the creative storytellers of the world keep it a brighter place, and I hope those kids continue to understand the power of their words and keep writing their stories.

Happy 2023

Today is the last day of my festive holidays and I feel very grateful to have booked a long break from work as it was much needed. I caught Covid (or more like it caught me, as I’ve been running from it all this time!) at the start of December and I exited 2022 feeling a bit burnt-out. So I was very happy to enter into what I like to call my ‘Hibernation Holiday’ (not for the whole time – I did enjoy socialising with family and friends some days!), where I prioritised reading lots, binge-watching Netflix (with some cheesy Christmas films in amongst it all), going out walks locally, and eating lots of chocolate. And although I didn’t do any writing I used the time for reflection, and thinking about what’s next.

A couple of my favourite Christmas presents are in the pictures on this post. At the top and below are snapshots from the fabulous and inspiring booklet my Mum, Rosemary, crafted for me (when my Mum started making these for friends I put in a request!). I love the thoughtful quotes, images and poetry, with plenty of space to pen my own thoughts and musings throughout.

A nice companion to this is the book ‘The Way of The Fearless Writer’ by Beth Kempton. (Also gifted to me from my Mum – you can read a recent post from my Mum here where this book gets a mention, along with other great books focusing on the craft of writing)

I’ve enjoyed doing a read-through to absorb Beth’s insights into how her knowledge of ancient Eastern Philosophy has influenced her writing life and how it can be used to shape our approach to writing. I particularly liked the section where she talks about how our writing shifts between various states (and goes on to describe each: Gaseous, Liquid and Solid in Part Two of the book). I like the reminder that we sometimes need to write without censor in the gaseous state, to allow words to get on the page and who cares if these don’t make sense to anyone but us, as no one should see them anyway at this stage. I’ve filled a notebook with some quotes as reminders of key points from the book, and will then go back through it to complete the writing exercises.

: ‘Allow Everything. Write Anything. Share Nothing.’ (the three rules of Gaseous writing pg 100)

I’m going into 2023 with no big pressure writing goals – my biggest priority in this area is to allow myself time to be creative and enjoy myself, and send some words out into the world and see what happens.

Re-framing Rejection

Mysticartdesign Image – Pixabay

Recently I re-read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and for me, it still stands out as one of the best books focusing on ‘the craft’. The memoir conversational style of writing throughout creates a very honest and accessible account of King’s journey to becoming a best-selling author, with the technical advice neatly threaded into the narrative in a way that makes you think this guy clearly knows what he’s talking about, as you can read he’s a natural storyteller within the pages of this book.

Things that struck me this time around when I was reading was the fearlessness and tenacity King showed as a young writer when he would study the stories in numerous short story publications, then submit, submit, submit. If he got a rejection (and there were many as he started out), he simply kept going, often re-working and quickly re-submitting elsewhere, all the time consciously developing his craft. He did what we should all do really – don’t dwell on the ‘no’, just strive to get better and to find your story a home where it fits. (Keep reading on and I’ll share a challenge which might help with this)

Ironically the one time King nearly gave up on a piece of writing was with Carrie, his debut novel that launched his career. When he started to write Carrie, it was as a short story, and he felt it just wasn’t working. I love the way King threads in stories about his wife Tabitha, often reminiscing about how she has supported him at key moments throughout his career. Nothing better illustrates this than when Tabitha retrieves the crumpled pages of Carrie out of the bin and tells King to keep going because she wants to see how the story ends. King reflects on what his experience with Carrie taught him and I’ll quote an abridged version here;

Don’t stop a piece of work because it’s hard (emotionally or imaginatively). Keep going even when you don’t feel like it, and ‘sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is shoveling shit from a sitting position.’ pg.82

Another section which stood out to me was when King described ‘the first time in (his) life, (when) writing was hard’. This was when he was working as a teacher, and even although he acknowledged the good parts – loving the kids and co-workers – he described ending the week feeling like he had ‘jumper cables clamped to (his) brain.’ (pg. 76) and it was the one time he, ..’came close to despairing about (his) future as a writer.’ I’ve included this in this post as it’s something, even with dropping a day at work, that really resonates with me. With a caseload of close to one hundred young people (doing indepth one to one work), and I’m now in an education setting one day a week, I understand the ‘jumper cables clamped to my brain’ description very well. It takes a lot to decompress, and stay creative.

Staying motivated to write when you have a lot of other things competing with your time is difficult. Especially if you don’t always see much reward.

So, something else I read lately which caught my attention, and actually gave me a spark of motivation, was an article about setting yourself Rejection Goals. You can read ‘Why You should aim to get 100 Rejections a Year’ here (The author of the article Kim Liao actually references King’s On Writing and the way he collected his initial rejections, nailing them to the wall, like a badge of honour).

The idea behind the 100 rejections goal is the more you submit, the more acceptances you are likely to get, and it quietens ‘your fragile ego.’ The perfectionist in me, never mind my fragile creative ego, thinks the psychology of this one is quite clever – if I can trick my brain into thinking my aim is to reach 100 rejections, I’m going to let go of any nagging doubts that I’m not good enough, and to let go of any disappointments of ‘set-backs’ because that simply is no longer the objective of my task.

So if you’re reading this and it seems like a great new challenge to embark upon, why don’t you join me?

We can sail into 2023 with the aim of racking up a lot of ‘nos’, or in the case of modern publishing, a big empty silence of never hearing back …

Good luck!

Happy Halloween

This October I decided to embrace the spooky season and watch and read seasonal appropriate stories. (My viewing ranged from the feel-good Hocus Pocus 2 to the very disturbing but compelling Dahmer).

I follow an Instagram account @talespointhorrorbookclub where ‘the host’ selects a classic 90s Point Horror book to read and discuss and I love logging in and recognising books from my childhood, but usually I can’t read-along as I gave away most of my collection (or borrowed them from my local library back in the day, so never purchased). So I was delighted when 13 Tales of Horror popped up as the October read, as I still have this short story collection (see photo below) Co-incidentally I recently read a brilliant post about the Point Horror series on my writer pal, Kirkland’s blog – you can read that here, and that also made me want to read the books all over again. (While you’re on Kirkland’s blog you should check out this post about his new book Sadie, Call The Polis, which was just released yesterday)

What struck me when I delved into the Point Horror short story collection was how classic American the characters were, and pretty cheesy with it. I was obsessed with American books when I was in my last year of primary, into secondary. I binged on an all-American diet of Point Horror, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High (and Twins), and the Babysitter Club. The alternatives at my reading club in my final year of Primary school were offerings such as ‘The Droving Lad’. What eleven-going on twelve-year-old girl wants to read a book about eleven year old Colin, a cattle drover in the Scottish Highlands, when she can read about the alluring and dangerous Bobby Walker? (a character in Christopher Pike’s Collect Call stories).

The 13 collection was a nice trip down a spooky memory lane, and one story I did remember that still wins as one of my favourites in the collection was ‘House of Horrors’ by J.B. Stamper. The award for best writing and subtle chills goes to Caroline B. Cooney’s ‘Where the Deer Are’

Seeing Caroline’s name sent me on a hunt through my bookcases for one of my all-time favourite ‘teen’ reads – The Fog (photo of my original copy below) Cooney has a real knack at building up a tense and creepy atmosphere. I think teen books lend themselves well to horror, and in this story being young and at the mercy of evil adults gives a sense of powerlessness, which builds the fear.

As my Young Adult mystery (not a horror) Promise Me features flash-back scenes to the night of a murder at a Halloween party I decided to create a PDF doc with graphics and a preview of the first few chapters. I’ve posted a pic of Scene 1 below and you can read the rest of the free extract here.

If teen screams aren’t really your thing then you should check out my writer Mum, Rosemary’s contemporary collection of quite spooky short stories, End of the Road which is FREE for the next few days. You can get that collection here

Happy Halloween weekend all!

What does writing success look like?

Last year when I was trying to decide what direction to move in, (keep sending out Promise Me to agents, or try to independently publish), I reflected on the question: What does writing success look like to me?

I think this is an important question all writers should ask themselves every so often as I am sure the answers will probably change from year to year.

Years ago I would have given quite starry-eyed answers along the lines of: be published by one of the ‘Big Five’, have a best-selling book that’s on display in all major bookshops, be invited to speak at book festivals and big writing events, get mentioned in ‘important’ press coverage, have my book optioned for film (that one will never stop being a dream), be nominated for prestigious prizes…

Mostly now what is important to me is knowing that my work is being read, and connecting with an audience, whatever form that audience takes (i.e. I don’t really care about talking at big festivals anymore, though of course I’d never turn down an invite!).

Competitions have had a massive impact on my confidence as a writer, reassuring me at key points of my career that I should keep going, and giving me a much needed boost. Lately I have been lucky enough to have a couple of competition successes, winning first place in the Writing Magazine school-themed short story competition, which you can read here. I also just found out this week that Promise Me has made the Finalist round for the Book Award category of the Page Turner Awards. I think it’s important for writers to acknowledge and take stock of any successes and wins, as we get so many knock-backs along the way, and some of the lovely feedback I’ve had for my short story really has made my month!

But there are downfalls of course if you focus too much on the need for external approval, and in the latest chapters of The Artist’s Way, (yes, I am still working my way through this!), Julia Cameron talks about how if ‘creatives’ constantly chase ‘Fame’ and ‘success’, which is measured by others, it can be a massive block to our creativity and distracts from our enjoyment of the process.  On page 172  Cameron says, ‘… addictive, and it always leaves us hungry. …The desire to attain it, to hold on to it, can produce the “How am I doing?” syndrome’, which she points out then makes us start to question our work in terms of, ‘not if it’s going well for us’ but ‘How does it look to them?’

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of something similar, when creatives let their Egos get in the way. ‘An unchecked ego is what the Buddhists call a “hungry ghost” – forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed’ (page 249) She also warns of viewing creativity on a ‘limited human scale of success and failures’ as it takes away from the ‘glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations.’ (page 70) In this section she quoted Harper Lee, (in response to questions around when her next novel would be released), “I’m scared…when you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”  (page 68).

Authors such as Harper Lee who had phenomenal success, in terms of sales and recognition, then ceased writing, fascinate me. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and sold 2.5 million copies in its first year, and won the Pulitzer Prize. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was published in 1936 and sold 1 million copies in six months, and also won the Pulitzer Prize. Harper Lee of course did eventually publish another novel Go Set A Watchman in July 2015, one year before her death, but a lot of controversy surrounded the release, with the revelation that the book was in fact supposedly an original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and many said if Harper Lee had been of sound mind, would not have agreed to the release.

Regardless of this, there is no denying that Lee obviously felt pressures after her debut success. Some articles I came across have quotes where she said, “Success was just as scary as failure.” “Public encouragement, I hoped for a little, but I got rather a lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening.” (The Telegraph, Feb 2016 – read full article here)

In articles I found about Mitchell, it appeared that she had devoted so much time to writing and researching Gone with The Wind (eight years), that she had no desire to go down that road again, and was quoted as saying to a NY reviewer, ‘I wouldn’t go through this again for anything.’ (see Georgia Women article here) Mitchell was also thrust into the spotlight, accumulating thousands of fans, who would send her fan mail, with Mitchell attempting to respond to every letter. In one response she addresses a fan’s question about writing a sequel , ‘Even if I had the urge to write another book, I do not know where I would find the time, for my life, since the publication of my novel…has been lived in the middle of a tornado.’ The full letter can be viewed here Other articles cite that Mitchell was heavily involved in political positions and then World War II struck in 1939, which would have of course been a distraction. Mitchell also met an untimely death in her late forties when she was struck by a taxi, so who knows if she would ever have changed her mind about penning another book.

A writer I have much admiration for is Donna Tartt who has written three books in thirty years. You can see her being interviewed here When the interviewer asks her ‘If she could become prolific and get faster with effort’ I bet she felt like slapping him (like she isn’t already putting in a lot of effort?). Instead she smiles sweetly and says, “I’ve tried to write faster and I don’t really enjoy it.” Her debut novel The Secret History was a best-seller, and had an initial print run of 75,000 (as opposed to the publisher’s usual 10,000), so you could say Tartt has the luxury of a decent sales history (see what I did there), to allow her time to create, but I am sure she must have kicked back against immense pressure from the publishing industry to produce more; faster, after her initial success.

In a world which is obsessed with producing and consuming it’s kind of refreshing to see a writer who will say, I’m doing this my way, at my pace, and you can all just wait for my genius to unfold.

Bibliotherapy and Bookshops

Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop, Paris – taken on my visit in 2012

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

Seahorse Bookstore

Ginger Cat Children’s Bookshop


Finding Your Way

Artwork by V Gemmell

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 the press & other adventures

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 link to 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!

Do we live in an extrovert’s world?

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 Me here).

These days I think it’s more like fifteen seconds, Andy.

I’m sure he would have risen to the challenge…

Stranger than fiction

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 the truth.