A few weeks ago the lovely Lucy Ribchester and I headed along to SummerhallTV for a wee chat about the New Writer Awards and all things book and writing related. It was fun. I was nervous. It turns out I gesticulate a lot more than I thought I did. Interviewer Nicole Brandon was lovely and we nattered on for ages. Overall, a nice first-ever on screen interview experience.
Considering that writing is all about making up stories, its always a little disconcerting to remember that the world of publishing is pretty tough. And if you don’t have a few friends to guide you through the potential pitfalls and dunts to your ego, you might just find it a little too much to handle.
Lovely (generous and talented) author Kerry Hudson recognised this, and the fact that many women are struggling to find the support they need, and came up with the fantastic WoMentoring Project as a way to inspire, connect and support female writers.
The aim of this fantastic, free project is to…
… simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.
So what are you waiting for? Get yourself along to the WoMentoring website and see if there’s a mentor perfect for you or, if you’ve got some excellent experiences to share, why not volunteer your services? See if you can find yourself a real life friend for facing the fictional world.
Why did I have to make a rule for something so silly? Because that phone seems to sneak its way into my hand without even a second of conscious thought. One minute I’m daydreaming about something, the next I’m checking this and checking that and my head is filled with all kinds of minutia. Enough, I decided. So far this year, I’ve left the house sans mobile at least once a day. Something that’s not even an achievement, but that has brought about a definite improvement.
My phone-free time is normally just a walk round the Links, a trip to the shops or some uninterrupted writing time in a cafe. And, it’s been kind of brilliant. I am a bit worried by how often I seem to pat my pockets, even when I know my phone isn’t in them, but I’m hoping it’s a habit I can begin to break.
A word of warning, however. If you do decide to leave your phone at home, remember to pick up your house keys before you go. Yesterday, I managed to forget this vital piece of advice and spent several hours wandering around Leith with some heavy bags of shopping. Partly because the dawn of the mobile age erased my abilities to remember anyone’s phone number. Ah phone, you wee trickster.
Some weeks, the world seems to be conspiring against you. And when one of those weeks rolls around, I often find myself repeating the title of a book by one of my favourite authors like a mantra: When Will There be Good News? When? WHEN?
Then I have to remind myself that, really, I already have my share of good news. True, I could have done without cutting my finger on the recycling cans, chipping my tooth on Friday night’s dinner, losing my hat at the museum, getting a reminder for a smear test, receiving some disappointing writing news and finding out about hassley flat stuff all within the space of a few days. But overall, I am a lucky duck.
I get to spend lots of time making up stories and earn my living by putting some words beside some other words, I know some very lovely people and I have tested all of the cafes in a two mile radius and rated them for coffee and treat excellence (in my head, anyway). Last week even had a few highlights of its own, including mother’s day fun, gossip with a pal and a flash fiction of mine in The List, thanks to lovely literary editor Kirsty Logan.
That’s enough to be going on for now and fingers crossed this week is going to be just a touch luckier when it comes to minor injuries and annoyances!
A couple of weeks ago I composed a little tweet along the lines of ‘I used to be quite good about updating my blog. Then I discovered Twitter.’ One of my tweeting pals replied saying I should blog about this fact. I agreed and then proceeded to fail to write said blog for a silly number of days. Why? Because Twitter really has filling up the bit of my brain that compels me to write blog posts.
Twitter is like and endless supply of mini snacks. A jumbo sack of 10p bags of crisps or a pic and mix of penny chews. A tweet is almost instantaneous. You don’t have to think about it for very long before firing it off (unless you’re about to wade into a spat or tricky discourse) and it takes no time at all to type it. Sometimes it does take a number of seconds to delete it down to the appropriate number of characters, but it’s still a very small time investment.
Blogging takes a little longer. A post will sit on your site rather than disappear down a timeline and it just straight up demands a little more in the way of words – and commitment. Also, blogging doesn’t seem to have quite the same addictive quality Twitter has. These days, I can go quite a while without thinking about blogging, but I seem to check my Twitter feed an awful lot. I don’t know why I’m surprised, crisps and penny chews have always been my downfall.
And then there’s the potential for instant feedback, which is so much more likely on Twitter, and feeds into that same writerly longing for confirmation when doing something alone that takes ages. It’s like the difference between writing a flash fiction you can sub in a number of days and a novel that will take you years. Which is more tempting when you’re in need of just a teeny wee ego boost? No question for lonely, affirmation seeking writers who happen to be drinking cold coffee and wearing a blanket.
So what am I saying? Basically Twitter has shown me that what I really want is distraction, conversation, attention and crisps.
It’s cold are you’re meant to be working and there’s no one sitting in the chair next to you guilting you into getting on with it. And the ink in your pen froze and you can’t remember what your feet look like under three pairs of socks.
Quit whining, start writing. Here’s a few ways to stay warm while you do it.
I don’t think of myself as the kind of person who gets to go and spend a month somewhere like that (we’re not exactly rolling in the dough) and there are so many spots that recall films and TV series that we watch on the sofa at home that the experience was rather dreamlike.
It all started with the madness of NYCC, where Fin and Sean launched Walk Don’t Run and I ran around trying not to buy too many cool things, and ended with a day lost at the Met then a desperate swapping of books and weighing of luggage as we tried to stay under our allowance. Beautiful.
I’d meant to get a lot of writing done while we were away. I always mean to get a lot of writing done. And I’m a little sad to report that I didn’t. I did have an amazing time though, and had the chance to not only see a lot of things I really wanted to, but also to spend some extra time reading which is always a treat in itself.
Also, the ABC: Why Children’s Books Matter exhibition at the NYPL happened to be on, meaning I unexpectedly found myself face to face with the original manuscript for The Secret Garden. This, somewhat unexpectedly, caused my to blubber like a fool. Maybe because I’d only just found my childhood copy a few days before we left. Maybe because it reminded me how fragile such things are. Maybe because it made me feel as though it doesn’t matter what we do with our words or with our days, as long as we try to fill them with an adventurous spirit.
I’ve spent the last three day in a beautiful, bookish burr, thanks to the annual Portobello Book Festival. It’s a local literary event that run on the generosity of performers, volunteers, readers and writers and I’m thrilled to have been part of the committee this year. Not least because it’s reminded me just how wonderful and generous people can be.
From writing craft to independence debates and tunes from the Ladies Guerrilla String Quartet to breadmaking, we covered all kinds of topics this year. However, we opened with a gala evening that celebrated the fact Portobello Library is 50 this year and as part of the birthday party, we asked local people to write us 63 word stories on 1963. The response was fantastic and while I’m not able to share all the stories we heard on the night, I can share my own.
Flying in the Spotlight
The modern era put the spotlight on sex, love and glamour. And just like our new friend Dr Who, we were taking a fast track to the future. We welcomed the new and our hemlines showed it. We said hello to knees and goodbye to high necks. Bonjour to bikinis, au reviour to baggy smocks. We dressed for flight, rising above the turbulence.
Screw you, Sindy
Sindy looks good for her age. 50 years since she was first pressed, a fully formed woman ‘made in England’, she’s as wide eyed and slender waisted as always. But don’t be jealous of her smooth skin, you have the memories and experiences that make five decades worthwhile, be proud to wear them. Also, be thankful your hair grows back when it’s cut.
This weekend myself and Lucy Ribchester, another Edinburgh writer, will talk with Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust about what winning a New Writer’s Award has done for us. We’re also planning to chat about the challenges of getting your debut novel noticed and published – as well as offering a few tips and words of encouragement! We’ll also be reading from the novels we’re currently working on – cue nerves!
The event is free and takes place at 12.30pm, Sunday 6 October, at Portobello Library. Come along to share your thoughts and questions. The festival is packed with other excellent treats, all free of charge, including an impressive selection of authors discussing Scottish independence later in the afternoon. On the previous Friday, I’ll also be taking part in the gala opening of the festival, which has the theme 1963: The Start of the Modern Era and has lots of readers, live music and even a 60s fashion show. Take a peek at the Porty Programme.
Of course, it won’t always feel that way. As with all other forms of art, those making it are typically also struggling to make a living and times are often tough. It’s easy to think we’ve got it hard.
A novel that is too similar to others on the list, one that deals with a topic now considered passé, one that’s a little too quiet in a summer of blockbusters – there’s often little in the way of forgiveness for these.
Weak stories are torn apart by reviewers and critics, or worse, ignored and a bad night at a spoken word mic can feel like it’s own special punishment. There’s no room for those searching for an easy ride and yet writers are especially lucky when it comes to trying to make a career because they have so many chances at making it big.
What if you wanted to be a footballer? A gymnast? What if you didn’t realise where your passions lay until it was already too late? There’s no such thing as too late for a writer. True, you may find there are more obstacles in your path as life goes on, but the words will always be there, waiting for you.
There’s room in a writing career for doubt. You’re allowed to stray from the point or have a crisis of faith. It might be difficult if you’re contracted for a second novel when the doubt hits or you might miss a particular market sweet spot, but guess what? Once you’ve regrouped, no one will be able to stop you from trying again.
Imagine being a ballet dancer and knowing that a two year hiatus could easily signal the end of your career. Two years is barely a blip on the screen for the seasoned writer. Take the lows, love the highs and remember you’re lucky to have found a passion that will let you try and try and try again until you get it right.