Story Shop

I’m reading The Comeback Tour at Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today. This is a story inspired by the music journalism I’ve done over the years – I’ve been sent to review many, many old rockers still on the road and sometimes you get the sense that playing their greatest hit is a contractual obligation. After singing it thousands of times, they’re just going through the motions, a bit dead behind the eyes. One particular, very famous and troubled star that I interviewed left me with the unsettling sense that their career – and their life – was no longer really in their own control. I’m also interested in the idea of nostalgia in music, that after a certain point in their lives, some people only really want to hear the songs they know from their youth. Why is that and what does it represent to them?

I’m reading this story in my approximation of an American accent, to fit the main character … I apologise in advance to anyone in the audience who finds it really painful, especially if they’re American! All I can say is that the accent is a hell of a lot better than it was, thanks to vocal super-coach Alex Gillon. 

Here’s my blurb at Story Shop:

and the listing details here: 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary happenings, Stories

In progress

It’s been an up and down year with my novel in progress, The Ghost Marriage. There have been months when I’ve hated it, months when events (dear boy, events) got in the way, but I think we have come to an understanding with each other. At present, I’m enjoying the writing, becoming more and more interested in the characters (especially a few whom I didn’t originally give much thought to, whose roles are expanding) and I’m feeling better about its tone which has been an ongoing problem.

Structuring my week has helped a lot; encouragement from agent Jenny Brown, at the excellent Pitch Live event in Edinburgh recently did too (specifically, her advice to ‘stay in the emotion longer’ which has unlocked a few things for me). Having more of my stories published helps too to make me feel that I’m still getting stuff out there even as I wrestle with a long project. There are still days when I doubt the whole thing, am frustrated with my inability to make it as good as I want it to be, or when I procrastinate myself into unhappiness, even though I know I always feel better when I’ve written. But it is still very much a work in progress – I keep going back to it – and that’s something.

Other stuff going on:

After The Fall, the post-apocalyptic anthology from Almond Press which includes my zombie rock star story, The Comeback Tour, is now available as an e-book from Amazon (sorry about the tax thing):

Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, which is in Gutter issue 9, is still available here:

I’m currently teaching classes at Glasgow University’s Open Studies dept, regularly appearing on both Shereen (discussing the week’s news stories) and The Culture Studio (reviewing films) on BBC Radio Scotland, and, of course, still reviewing telly for The Scotsman, as well as occasional book reviews.

Also, watch this space as I have just had some proper author pictures taken, by the very kind Glasgow photographer Paul Harkin who specialises in writer/artist portraits – will put one up if it doesn’t make me want to die inside!
(Paul’s info here:

Leave a comment

Filed under Stories, Teaching, Writing

Story news, writing courses & book reviews

Lots of updates!

My longish short story, The Iceberg, has been accepted for publication by Alt Hist magazine (for historical and alternate history fiction). It’s based on an amazing true story about a relative of someone lost on the Titanic who was later accused of war crimes. The magazine will be available in print or as an e-book: more info on Alt Hist at

Another story, Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, has just been published by literary journal Gutter, in issue 9 available here: It includes wild misreadings of tarot cards.

And my story The Comeback Tour, which is about a zombie rock star (you can’t say my subject matter isn’t varied, can you?) has been shortlisted in Almond Press’ competition for post-apocalyptic fiction. It will be published in their forthcoming e-book anthology After The Fall, which will look like this:

I’ve been trying to submit more lately and it seems to be paying off – I have fewer finished stories sitting around homeless!

From 1st October, I am due to teach a new 8-week course at Glasgow University’s Open Studies dept called Planning To Write?: How To Research, Structure And Craft Your Story. I’ll say more about this class nearer the time, but basically it’s for anyone who has an idea for a book, story or non-fiction project but isn’t sure how to get started, so it will look at research methods, structure, techniques and planning. Please alert anyone you think might be interested: info at under Creative Writing. The course is scheduled to continue in January and will also run at Strathclyde University next year.

AND from 30th September, I am also running the latest in my Now Read The Book courses – this time on short stories which have been adapted to film and including The Birds, Memento, The Shawshank Redemption, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and others. Part two (with different stories/films) will run in January. Info as above, under Literature. With all my Open Studies courses, there is a fee but they are also eligible for ILA funding and concessions.

Two more literary events which I’m hoping to attend: Pitch Live, organised by NAWE (which includes my writing coach Philippa Johnston), which is a masterclass for emerging novelists on 21st September in Edinburgh. Excellent speakers and the chance to pitch your novel at publishers and agents, with feedback: details at
And on 5th September, the Scottish Book Trust are holding a seminar on ‘Navigating Publishing’ also in Edinburgh – I think there are still some places left, check with them at

FINALLY, some recent book reviews & previews what I wrote:
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig:
A Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore:
(both Scotland On Sunday)
Neurocomic by Dr Matteo Farinella & Dr Hana Ros:
My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning:
A Wolf In Hindleheim by Jenny Mayhew:
Book Festival previews:
Fairest 2: Hidden Kingdom by Lauren Beukes & Inaki Miranda:
50 Shades Of Feminism:
(all The List magazine)


Leave a comment

Filed under Competitions & Awards, Literary happenings, Literary magazines, Reviews, Stories, Teaching, Writing

New story news

Happy to announce that I’ve got another story accepted by leading Scottish literary journal Gutter for their next issue, which comes out in time for the Edinburgh Book Festival (around which I am available for readings, events and bar mitzvahs). It’s a story I’m particularly pleased to have published, so please read it when it comes out if you can. Some very distinguished company surrounds it and the full line-up is here: Freight Books.

I wrote a wee story about my childhood gullibility for National Flash Fiction Day, which was Highly Commended in their contest: read Lost For Words and all the winners here: MicroFiction Competition 2013. Thanks to Calum Kerr for these cool postcards showing my story, which you can see here: NFFD

And I also was a contest winner at fairytale magazine Enchanted Conversation, for a short piece that is not so much a story, more a character study or a meditation on Rumplestiltskin, one of my favourite mythological underdogs. Read it, with a lovely illustration, here: You Know My Name.
Thanks to Kate Wolford for my prize and for sterling efforts to publish it in the face of computer trouble. Check out her book of neglected fairytales, Beyond The Glass Slipper, while you’re at the site.

In other news, I’ve just finished four months of working with coach Philippa Johnston under a programme called Coaching For Glasgow Writers, supported by the agency Glasgow Life. This has been one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my writing life: not my writing as such, but the ways of going about it, of directing and structuring creative ideas and professional development in all areas of my rambling freelance life of writing journalism, fiction and teaching. I’ve never done anything like this before; as a journalist, after my post-grad, you tend not to have the opportunities for continuing training that other professions have (and, these days, we’re just barely clinging on to it as a profession). And while I’ve found writing classes and workshops very helpful in the past, it was really thought-provoking to have these one-to-one sessions, being (gently) encouraged to think through problems and obstacles and to look for solutions rather than just flail around hopelessly, assuming that there was no other way, or that if I just kept trying harder to do things in the same way, magically it would somehow eventually work. I won’t go on too much about the specific things I worked on with Philippa for now – maybe another time – but just want to recommend her coaching, in particular, but probably any similar programme in other areas too, for anyone who shares my problems of procrastination, disorganisation, juggling jobs and trying to make writing a career. A good place to start might be: The Writers Compass. Final thanks to Philippa, for listening so well and keeping me on track.

What a link-tastic post! Oh, one more thing: I am on BBC Scotland’s The Culture Studio on Thursday afternoon, talking about new films including The Internship and Now You See Me (from 2pm, 4th July). I’ll also be back on the Shereen show on 20th July, despite making a TERRIBLE Iain Banks faux pas last time I was on a couple of weeks ago (mixed up the opening lines of The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road! How could I! Love Iain Banks and very sad to hear about his death). No mistakes next time, I promise …

Leave a comment

Filed under Competitions & Awards, Flash Fiction, Literary happenings, Stories, Writing

Emily: What Happened After

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffrage campaigner who died at the Derby during a protest. I wrote this for her.


What Happened After

The crowd’s roar almost pushing her on, she waits, tingling. And then everything else goes away but the beast looming up before her. She grabs the bridle with clumsy hands and for a moment it seems as if her banner will slip and be trampled. But somehow, somehow, she manages to attach it and as the horse veers away, she is left gasping, watching the colours flutter.

There is just enough time for her to back into the arms already reaching out to seize her, as the rest of the field thunders past. They take her away, of course, and amid a huge public outcry she has her day in court. Something comes over her there that she can never afterwards explain: she has never spoken so well, the cause has never been so eloquently stated. But she is locked up anyway for a sentence designed to send a message.

And it does. For her words are quoted, distributed, chanted. She becomes a symbol, though knows little of it while enduring conditions even worse than before. When she emerges, she is shaken and inarticulate, but it does not matter, for others lead the fight by then. And when it is won, she rejoices.

After a time, she recovers. Her life is rich and eventful. She has terrible years and glorious moments. She watches the world change. And when she is old, they will come to her, these young women so full of possibilities, and ask her to recount over and over that act now enshrined as a turning point in history. She does so, gladly.

But she never tells them that when the beast’s eyes were on hers, for a frozen second she pictured falling, falling, beneath his weight and everything ending. Emily Wilding Davidson will never tell them that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Stories

So, where am I now?

Firstly, here’s a blog I wrote for The Scotsman on the first Edinburgh Historical Fiction Festival this weekend (it’s below the one about ‘Thatcher’s musical legacy’).

The shortlist has just been announced for this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize and Granta will again be publishing the regional winners – I’m looking forward to reading them and wish them all best of luck! In the meantime, Granta have published short updates on the five of us from last year and you can read it here if you like: ‘Where are they now?’ Or, if you’d rather not be scared by a horrible photo of me, I thought I’d put up my original answers to their email questions, which had to be understandably cut down for publication. I hope it doesn’t seem too self-indulgent, but for me anyway it was an interesting exercise to think about how to answer these. Especially the last one.

How has the experience of being selected by Commonwealth Writers and having your story published by Granta altered your perspective of yourself as a writer, if at all?
Oh, it was such a boost. I really believed in this story but it’s a bit of a strange one, so it was amazing to have someone else – especially people as eminent as the Commonwealth judges – say that they got it and they enjoyed it. It really gave me confidence that I was on the right track: I know I have a lot to learn about writing, but this award said that I could do it. I went down to the Hay-on-Wye book festival for the official announcements and it felt like a small taste of a potential future. And, honestly, the prize money came in handy too. The only downside was having to provide a photo for the publicity. Ugh.

Granta was the first literary magazine I ever read, or even heard of, back in 1990. I still have those first issues on my bookshelves. So for me to have a story published under the same imprint (albeit online) as all the big beasts of contemporary literature is something so special that I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it. I was very, very pleased and it has been the highlight of my writing career so far. It was also lovely just to see it laid out on the screen page, with pull-quotes and that beautiful photograph to illustrate it.

Has anything resulted directly from your story being published by Granta and/or winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize?
Since the story was published, I’ve been approached through my blog by a couple of agents wanting to discuss my work, had someone want to translate it and even heard from a cousin abroad whom I haven’t seen in 25 years!

What are you working on at the moment?
I have been developing The Ghost Marriage into a novel, with substantial changes. It’s a long process, but I’m making good progress so I hope to finish by the end of this year and then try to get it published. But I also take breaks from the book to write short stories, on all kinds of subjects – from working in a call centre to a WWI war crimes trial to a zombie rock star.

How did you find the experience of having your work edited?
Great – I just want my stories to be the best they can be. An outside perspective helps make sure that everything’s coming across clearly, so the reader knows what they need to know but the story still has space for ambiguity and imagination. I’m used to being edited anyway because I have a journalism background, but there you don’t tend to get much of a say about it! Fiction allows for so much more nuance and multiplicity of meanings, so there has to be a bit more of a discussion between writer and editor. It’s more personal, yet you don’t want to be self-indulgent, so there’s almost a collaboration going on.

If you were in a band, what would they be called?
The Procrastinators. We’d rehearse a lot but never get around to playing any gigs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Competitions & Awards, Interviews, Literary happenings, Literary magazines, Writing

April update

First up, I have a story called Holding On in the first issue of an exciting new international magazine, Ekto. What’s different about it is that it was started by writers and translators to share stories across language barriers; each of the 12 tales appears both in its original language and in the three others – isn’t that a great idea? So mine has been translated into Spanish, French and Japanese – if you happen to know any of these languages, I would love to hear how it works in translation. If not, just read it in English! The issue can be downloaded free at their site linked above.

I wrote this story a few years ago and it’s loosely based on the ballad of Tam Lin. A lot of writers have made versions of this tale: the most fascinating to me is Fire And Hemlock by the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favourite writers. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours talking to her some years ago (she died in 2011) for an interview and – though I never, ever do this – got her to sign my copy of Fire And Hemlock. I absolutely treasure it. She was delightful as well as a brilliant writer.

Also this month, I wrote an article about the TV show Game Of Thrones – as always it’s hard to write about something you really love, especially for a general readership like The Scotsman’s which may not know the show, but I tried my best to convey how awesome it is. It includes an interview with Rory McCann who plays the Hound. He was a nice chap, very sincere, and I found what he said about preparing for the role really interesting: I think developing this kind of intense focus can be helpful for anyone who has something they want to do really well, whatever it is. Traditionally I have been very bad at doing that, at shutting out the world, but in recent months my focus and structure around work has been getting better – I’ll write more about this in a while, once I’m sure it’s a permanent change.

Yet having said that, I have also recently started using Twitter, which is the antithesis of shutting out the chatter. I’ve had an account for years but never posted, because basically I don’t really like the format of it: it’s got better now that you can follow conversations, but the scrolling layout and the awkwardness of having to open up half of the tweets is kind of a pain. Also, I’ve followed a few famous tweeters and yet they annoy me because when they tweet to their celebrity mates it feels like they’re all showbiz chums together in a big VIP area. Obviously I’m being unreasonable – of course well-known writers/journalists/actors know each other, I know a few myself, why shouldn’t they chat? – but rationalising away the little twinges of irritation I get seems a waste of time.

So why am I on Twitter? To be blunt, it seems necessary – for a writer and a hack, there is clearly a lot to be gained from the connections and information there. Already I’ve followed links which have genuinely been professionally useful, as well as interesting or funny. The key must be to use Twitter properly, not to let checking it every ten minutes take over one’s life, not to follow too many people or go down too many rabbit holes, as I know I have a tendency to become compulsive about these things. I’ve spent, literally, years on discussion forums (although I have made some great real-life friends there). The last thing I need is more internet distraction. So I am trying to think of this as a sort of experiment at present to see how it goes. I’m @Pandrea100 if you want to chat, or convince me that Twitter is either the best thing since wi-fi or the work of the procrastination devil. Please say hello!

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Books, Literary magazines, Stories, TV, Writing