Tag Archives: The Scotsman

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.

Advertisements

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Literary happenings, Research, Reviews, Teaching, TV

Recent articles

The Scotsman now has an Arts Blog (at long last) – here is a silly thing I wrote for it: Shane’ll Fix It & Other Strange TV Ideas.

I don’t normally put my articles up here but while I’m here, a few more seasonal ones:

How Charles Dickens trademarked Christmas.

Why this series of Strictly Come Dancing offered light relief.

And from last year, a piece I really enjoyed researching about
Christmas in Scotland over the years (can’t link direct, but scroll to Page 28-31; note that the system takes a minute to load).

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Obligatory lame introduction

It is apparently vital for every writer, even a timid, not-much-published one like me, to have a website, so here it is, the very-much-beta version.

I have a story up at the lovely online project For Every Year (short stories thematically linked to years in history – mine is the year 1633) called The Big Girl. It’s about Trintje Keever, the tallest woman in known history.

And here’s my most recent TV review in The Scotsman, on BBC Scotland’s The Field Of Blood.
Thank you for reading.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Stories