Tag Archives: Literary happenings

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: http://www.cityofliterature.com/story-shop-2014-wed-20th-august/

and the listing details here: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/story-shop-62 

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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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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 …

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Granta & Hay

Photo by Martinliano

Here is a link to my Commonwealth prize-winning story on Granta. I absolutely love the picture they’ve chosen, the white jasmine emerging from the black background, beautiful, mysterious and a bit sinister – it’s perfect (thanks to Ted Hodgkinson at Granta, who edited the piece). The story was written a while ago now and since I’ve been working on the book version, and doing research, I SO wanted to change so much of it – for instance, Lucy is now from Scotland, which makes much more sense, the father’s history is quite different, the details are much more accurate – but it had to remain more or less as I’d entered it. And it was odd answering those interview questions … particularly as the emphasis (understandably) was on nationality and the idea of Commonwealth. It made me realise that it’s not something I’ve ever thought about much before, in itself, despite considering myself fairly well-informed and opinionated about matters of politics and colonialism. The answers from the other regional winners are very interesting too – as are the stories, which are also up on Granta. I’m really happy to be in their company!

At the weekend I went down to Hay-on-Wye for the book festival, to meet up with the Commonwealth Writers staff who were involved in various events there. Met lovely people, including the thoughtful Emma Martin from New Zealand, who won the Pacific region and the overall prize – her story Two Girls In A Boat is absolutely beautiful – and the charismatic Shehan Karunatilaka, from Sri Lanka, whose book Chinaman: The Legend Of Pradeep Mathew won the Commonwealth Book Prize (and sounds brilliant, despite being about cricket, will read it soon). Thanks to all the Commonwealth people and particularly to those of the judges who were there, Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Busby and Nicholas Laughlin, for being lovely and encouraging. There was a reception and couple of other talks.

with Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Busby


Other interesting encounters: the impossibly glamorous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who arrived in a gorgeous, totally impractical vivid green frock and stilettos, and was so sweet that when she drew a little picture of me in a book (like a child would draw), me and the two adoring blokes with her melted into cooing praise like fools.

With Chimamanda at Hay


A very posh lady, whose identity I never quite got but who had lots of intense anecdotes and seemed to know everyone, who told me a story about hearing ghostly footsteps “when my husband at the time and I were living at Longleat for a while with Alexander” (ie the Marquess of Bath – pronounced AlexAUNNNder). Two very nice writers from north Wales, Mary and Debz, who took pity on me when I was hanging around on my own and were good company. Debz runs Bridge House Publishing and Paws’n’Claws; among other things they publish children’s books in aid of the Born Free Foundation. AND, though it shouldn’t really count as I didn’t actually speak to him, Salman Rushdie who ate his dinner just two tables away from me (I was tempted to do a Bridget and ask him where the toilets were).

Hay Festival Commonwealth Writers

Having booked at the last minute, I was staying in a weird dorm room with 16 small bunk-beds crammed in. Thankfully only two others were occupied, but the 1970s decor and low heights made it feel like a claustrophobic Girl Guides’ trip. I can’t complain about the price though: £22 a night including a great breakfast! The only other thing available was a luxury yurt at £200. And the hotel it was in, while also untouched by the fashions of the last few decades, was the original Baskerville Hall, where Conan Doyle stayed and took the name (relocating the place to Dartmoor). It was a bit out of the way though, down a dark country lane, and it took two buses to get to the festival site. And unfortunately the weather at Hay was bloody awful. The tented village may have kept the rain out but not the cold and wind, so being around there all day was a damp and depressing experience. I’m sure the festival is really good usually (though I don’t get the sense they have as big and varied a programme as the Edinburgh book festival), but I only saw it at its grimmest. And the journey was quite complicated with a succession of dull bus and train journeys – and stop-offs of several hours in Hereford (quite pretty, nice cathedral) and Crewe (incredibly boring and ugly town centre). I came back home exhausted and immediately succumbed to quite a rotten cold. I’ve spent the last few days snuffling and moaning and cuddling the dog. You know, just in case literary success went to my head or anything.

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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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Monosyllabic tonight

I’m reading tonight at Monosyllabic, now at its new venue at the Old Hairdressers’. The theme is ‘In The Dark’ (as they’re following on from a ‘dancing in the dark’ event) and I’ve written something specially, called Under The Covers With Amy. It’s not as saucy as it sounds. Do come!

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Reading at Duality @ Inky Fingers Minifest

For many years I reviewed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe – this year I (technically) performed in one! And at a venue the Independent called the “coolest in Edinburgh,” no less. Unfortunately the Forest Cafe is set to close at the end of this month, though they’re hoping to find another venue, but in the meantime they have a very full August programme of events, including the Inky Fingers minifest of literary readings. I took part yesterday in an event organised by Duality, run by Alec Beattie, which also included Jamie McIntyre and Gill Hoffs who’d both read at Words Per Minute last month and who I was happy to see (and hear) again.

It was quite a long slot so I read The Real And The Not Real, a fairly long story about old women and fairies. I love this story, but I’m not entirely sure if it worked as a performance piece, I hope people could follow it – being a café, there was a bit of background noise (especially earlier on in the show, when a lot of lunches were being served). However, it was certainly good practice as after this I feel I could probably read anywhere! Afterwards we went to a pub in the Grassmarket and watched Alec do a ‘Flash Fiction Mob’ declaiming a story to passers-by – one of whom had been drinking for quite some time and didn’t really get the concept …

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