Category Archives: Reviews

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 http://althistfiction.com/

Another story, Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, has just been published by literary journal Gutter, in issue 9 available here: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/inrude-health.html. 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: http://www.almondpress.co.uk/

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 http://www.gla.ac.uk/courses/openstudies/ 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 http://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/events/nawe-present-pitch-live-a-masterclass-for-scotlands-emerging-novelists.html
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 http://www.scottishbooktrust.com

FINALLY, some recent book reviews & previews what I wrote:
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig: http://bit.ly/16xk4PO
A Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore: http://bit.ly/14V2Lmi
(both Scotland On Sunday)
Neurocomic by Dr Matteo Farinella & Dr Hana Ros: http://www.list.co.uk/article/54229-dr-matteo-farinella-and-dr-hana-ros-neurocomic/
My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51087-kate-manning-my-notorious-life-by-madame-x/
A Wolf In Hindleheim by Jenny Mayhew: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51048-jenny-mayhew-a-wolf-in-hindelheim/
Book Festival previews:
Fairest 2: Hidden Kingdom by Lauren Beukes & Inaki Miranda: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
50 Shades Of Feminism: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
(all The List magazine)

Phew!

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

Retreat, move forward

A cottage on a small island surrounded by sea; no interruptions or tedious chores; just writing and pottering about with the dog and skimming stones and cooking and eating and no phone signal and … bliss. My partner and I were both pretty tired and needed a break. Going anywhere abroad just seemed too much effort (and expense): all we really wanted to do was have time to write. So we did and it was wonderful.

My goal for this unofficial writing retreat was to rework the first part of the book. I know there’s a school of thought that you should power on till the end and then go over the entire first draft, but I felt like a lot has changed since I began, both in terms of how I’m telling the story and also due to what research has thrown up. There were a lot of fiddly problems that were putting me off the whole book because I knew they were sticking out. 

I feel like I had a breakthrough, or rather a series of small breakthroughs. I solved a structural problem that has dogged me since the very beginning and found a way to do so that is a small private joke with myself about it (though no one else should notice). I took an unsatisfactory minor character who has seemed, in her one scene, like a silly caricature and – I think – made her more like a real person. I joined up bits that have been hanging with “WRITE MORE HERE” stuck between them like a temporary hoarding. And so on. I’m really happy with what I got done and it’s re-energised me to carry on. 

Here is a picture of where I sat to write. Spot the small dog trying to lure me outside.

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And when I wanted a break, I’d go and look at this. Are you jealous?

 

 

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In other news, I spent the week before the holiday reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is something I used to do every year, for the full stretch, until it sent me insane. After a break of a few years, I thought I could handle doing just a week … the thing is, at the Fringe, as with everything else, 90 per cent of what’s on is rubbish. Which is why proper reviews by someone with a bit of experience are actually important. But for some reason while I can easily read a bad book or watch a bad TV show or film, and still get something out of it, when I’m stuck watching an hour of bad theatre, I just want to bite my own fist off. Sometimes if you give something a negative review, someone who knows the people involved, or who just enjoyed it themselves, will leave angry comments. I wish I could convince them – and I’m sure this applies to most professional critics – that I HATE not enjoying something to the extent that it deserves a poor review. I would so, so, much rather write positive ones (although writing a scathing review is certainly more fun than writing about something which was okay, nothing special, watchable/readable but not memorable. Those reviews are absolute killers to write). Of course, I am sure I will change my tune if my book gets loads of horrible reviews. I will then declare all the critics to be idiots who didn’t even read it and can’t read properly anyway. 

Some positive reviews: 

Jimmy McGovern’s The Accused, with Sean Bean http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/tv-and-radio/tv-preview-accused-person-of-interest-1-2464089

New play, The Death Of Chatterton http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/festival-review-the-death-of-chatterton-pleasance-courtyard-venue-33-1-2465073

New production of More Light (I loved this play, hadn’t seen it before and now want to know more about Bryony Lavery) http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/review-more-light-c-eca-venue-50-1-2469210

 

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July update

Not too much writing news to report this month, just keeping on going … well, sort of. I have to admit I had a post-Hay Fest slump and took a couple of weeks off, then went to Hawick for a retirement party ceilidh, but I’ve pulled myself together now and particularly looking forward to going away next month for a full-on, no computers/phones/roads week of island isolation up north where my plan is to completely revise the first section of the book and, if possible, also revise a long short story that’s been sitting around for a few months.

I have been doing other work though so here’s a few links:
Book review of ‘Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History’ by Florence Williams in Scotland on Sunday – interesting popular science book.
Book review of ‘You Came Back’ by Christopher Coake in The Scotsman – lovely new novel.
Non-Olympic telly preview – I made sure to get a dig in at Fifty Shades of Grey.
A piece about the reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom (it has got worse since I wrote that: the latest “are you KIDDING me?” moment is that the supposedly brilliant TV news producer woman somehow is unable to understand basic economic concepts).

Plus a few radio appearances: Good Morning Scotland on the 28th to discuss the Olympics Opening Ceremony, Call Kaye this morning (30th) and on the 15th, the Shereen Nanjiani Sunday morning show – I’ve done tons of radio but never been on this show before. It’s quite intense, because you’re on for the whole hour and the discussions basically cover all the main news stories of the week and the Sunday papers. I really had to swot up, particularly since the other guests (veteran foreign editor David Pratt and former investment banker turned consultant Ian Blackford) are so knowledgeable – bit nervous but I think I did alright, really enjoyed it anyway.

In other news, here’s the info for the writing workshop I’m due to teach next month – please pass on if you know anyone who might be interested.
Writing Historical Fiction – Thursday 23rd August 10am-4pm – Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong Learning – £30 – 0141 548 2116
Interested in writing a short story or novel set in the past? Whether Ancient Rome, the Victorian era or WWII, each historical period brings its own challenges for writers: how do you convey the way people lived and talked then? How do you choose the right details to really give a flavour of the time? How do you create believable characters and storylines? What resources are available, how much research is necessary – and how much is too much? This class is jointly led by a writer [that’s me!] and an historian [my good pal Dr Ben Shepherd, Reader in History at Caledonian University, author of War In The Wild East and other books], with advice, discussion and exercises used to help you find ideas, get the most out of research sources and write great historical fiction (though many elements will apply to any kind of writing). It is suitable for both beginners and more experienced writers. Strathclyde University Summer Programme online.
There will also be a longer version of the class, with weekly writing critiques and exercises, running at Glasgow University on Wednesday evenings at 6.30pm from 3rd October for eight weeks (details: 0141 330 1835) and again at Strathclyde University from January 2013 (details: 0141 548 5778).
In both terms I’ll also be running literature classes, including Now Read The Book II – the sequel to last year’s book-to-film adaptations class.

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Review

A very nice review of my reading at WPM on Sunday. I’m really glad that changing the tone and pace as I read worked for this person at least – I was very conscious that it can be hard to follow a story which gives only half of a conversation (in part, there is also another bit which is an email as well as the stories within the story) so I was hoping this would be ok. Disclaimer: I’m a member of the Glasgow Writers Group but I’m not aware of having met Raymond.

He mentions that the numbers were slightly down on the usual, which is possibly because the event has had to move from Sundays to Saturdays due to changes at The Arches. I hope it picks up again. Still, I think there were probably around 30 people there, which isn’t too bad.

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