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.

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.

Storytelling

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

Events, Books & Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Launch Night ~ Waterstones, Argyle Street, Glasgow

book launch

So excited to reveal that my launch for Follow Me will be in the Argyle Street branch of Waterstones in Glasgow on Friday 9th October at 6.30pm. There will be drinks, some nibbles and of course book signings! I’ve been lucky enough to attend book launches in the past for writer friends and it feels amazing to know this time I will be the author at the event.

Read my book blurb here on the website of my publisher, Strident.

Come along to the event and hear more about the inspiration behind my book!

Soundtrack

As the release date of my book draws ever near I’m finding myself thinking back to the nights I would get lost in writing the story and how listening to certain songs can take me right back there, to that time.

When I write, I usually always have music playing, and back in 2011 I blogged about the ‘soundtrack’ to Follow Me. Songs that I listened to started to feel like they belonged to my story (and to my characters); for me they seemed to ‘fit’ certain scenes perfectly and evoke moods. So below here is a list of songs I feel sit well with Follow Me – you’ll notice a lot of them are by the same artist and really if it were ever made into a film, The Silversun Pickups had better be on board for providing me with the score 🙂

Dots and Dashes – The Silversun Pickups (you’ll notice this is the song that plays on my website)

Catch and Release – The Silversun Pickups

The Royal We – The Silversun Pickups (when this song hits 2:44 I can actually clearly picture Rob and Kat running through the woods)

Panic Switch – The Silversun Pickups

Julien– Placebo

The Bitter End – Placebo

Loud Like Love – Placebo. I just came across this song recently when the book was already finished but some of the lyrics in this weirdly fit with my book (and this could easily be the song Rob has on when he’s driving Kat home~ you can look out for this part when the book comes out!)

Empty Room – Arcade Fire

On the book front, some final tweaks are being made to my cover (the artist of which is Ida Henrich) so I’ll post the final version here soon. I’ve been really lucky as my publisher has consulted with me throughout the whole process.

I’ll hopefully also have details of my retail launch very soon!