Category Archives: Books

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!

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February update

Just noting a few of the writing-related things I have been up to this month (which has also seen a depressing number of rejections – oh well).

On the 13th, I went through to Edinburgh for Blind Poetics, where I was a ‘featured’ performer. Now, I just assumed that the name referred to the venue, the Blind Poet pub, but it turned out that I was the only non-poet reading (and, as well as the fantastic Colin McGuire, there were a dozen or so Open Mic-ers). I felt really self-conscious about this as my stories seemed really long by comparison, but everyone was very polite and attentive. A fun night and met some nice people.

On the 16th, I read briefly at the Love Words event at the Museum of Modern Art, organised by the Federation of Writers (Scotland).

On the 25th, the anthology A Thousand Cranes was officially launched at an event at the Arches, part of the Margins festival, reading my story The Unbeaten Track. Helen Sedgwick, Iain Paton, Raymond Soltysek and Katy McAulay also performed and a number of other people from Glasgow Writers’ Group who have stories or poems in the book were there too. It was a surprisingly good turnout (oh, the relief – at one point only 12 tickets had been sold) and quite daunting facing an audience in the large space of the Arches theatre. Some of my friends who don’t normally come along to literary events, along with my partner’s parents, came to support me, which was lovely, and afterwards we drank much wine in the bar. So that’s the anthology now officially out, complete with its foreword by Alex Salmond, and if you could possibly buy a copy that would be very nice (all proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross).

Finally, I went to London for four days this month, piggybacking my partner’s work trip and taking advantage of the free hotel room! An aside: I got the train, he got a BA flight and we left the house at the same time but I got to the hotel by the Barbican literally two minutes after he did … Anyway, my purpose in going was not just to have a Me Party like Amy Adams & Miss Piggy in The Muppets film, but to do some research for my novel in progress.

I had a brilliant time at both the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum (looking into accounts of sea voyages between Britain and China in the mid-19th Century) and then at the British Library Reading Rooms for various other matters. I am a complete library geek and this was my idea of heaven; I’d visited both places before but there was something really exciting to me about getting a Reader’s card and being able to request material from their stacks, waiting for them to be delivered, taking copious notes in pencil (no pens allowed) in the wonderful quiet atmosphere. Absolutely my idea of the perfect London trip (I also saw a great Dickens exhibition) and it has reignited my love for this project.

I’ve been working on it for a while but I feel that I finally have the shape of the story clear and have enough general research (I will still need to check various specific things as I go along) to really achieve what I’m trying to do. Getting the balance right between researching and writing the first draft has been interesting and has thrown up a lot of issues about writing historical fiction. As a result, I’ve put together, with my mate the historian Dr Ben Shepherd, a one-day workshop which will run at the University of Strathclyde on August 23rd, where we’ll be discussing that very thing (more details to follow).

Overall, quite a productive month really (I’ve also written a new, long short story and several thousand more words of novel). I hope this doesn’t sound like showing off; for me, I have to keep note of the good things as a counterbalance for the inevitable crappy feelings that I’m way behind, I keep being rejected, other people are better etc etc. Got to accentuate the positive, talk myself up (to myself) – that’s what Miss Piggy would do.

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Launch of A Thousand Cranes anthology

Today the Japanese Consul sang me a song. No, really.

It was at the official reception to launch the new Cargo Publishing anthology, A Thousand Cranes, which I’m pleased to have a story in. The project was the idea of Iain Paton, from the Glasgow Writers’ Group, whose wife Deborah used to work in a province of Japan affected by the tsunami last year (he’s also working on a crime novel set there). He asked people to contribute stories, essays or poems with a Japanese theme for a book to benefit the Red Cross’ work there, helping people left homeless or injured by the disaster which killed at least 15,000 people.

I was moved by the TV coverage and wanted to send something but I’ve never been to Japan – and that gave me an idea. So my story, The Unbeaten Track, is about a woman called Henrietta Bird who also never visited the country, but whose sister – the intrepid Victorian traveller Isabella Bird – did, sending back detailed letters to Henrietta back on Tobermory, in Mull, where I imagine that she, too, felt a connection with a faraway land.

It took a while to get the book together (ably edited by Iain Paton, Alex Cox, Alan Gillespie and Cara McGuigan – my pal from last year’s Glasgow Uni DACE course Imaginary Worlds – and produced by the people at the very up-and-coming Cargo) but now it’s available, in a shiny paperback or Kindle edition. This is actually the limited edition first printing; there will be another featuring an introduction by First Minister Alex Salmond (not ready in time for this one), so if you are not a fan of his you might want to snap up one of the first few collectors’ copies.

Mr Tarahara and his wife invited those of us who’d taken part to their official residence today to give a seal of approval to the book, which was a lovely experience if a little strange – I don’t normally mix with ambassadors. But they and their staff were extremely nice and welcoming and it was fun to catch up with writers I knew and meet some new ones. After making many jokes about Ferrero Rochers, when Mr T announced he had a present for us, we were prepared to be ‘really spoiled’ but to everyone’s surprise, this jolly man in a business suit proceeded to sing – in a passable attempt at a Scottish accent – the Robert Burns song Annie Laurie, while we stood around listening. That was a moment I’ll remember for a long time!

Anyway, do check out the book if you can: it’s a good cause and, from my initial browse so far, it looks like there are a number of great pieces in there. It will be available from Waterstone’s soon (with a proper book launch, watch this space) or get it now via Cargo Publishing.

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