Biting off more than you can chew

Review 134 Launch

It’s tempting to say yes to everything, isn’t it? Especially when the things you’re agreeing to could lead to money/friends/adulation/fame. Well, maybe not the last one, but we can always hope.

When someone asks me to do something, there’s always a pause, a moment where I riffle through the baggy filofax of my mind, looking for the many reasons I can’t. But in the pressure of the moment, the pages I’m looking for aren’t there, and somehow I find myself saying yes. Then, when it sinks in that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew yet again, I toss that mental filofax across the room in a fit of despair, howling ‘how will I fit it all in?’

Resigned, I add the new task to my list, for it to then be ignored in turn when the next request comes up. And so it goes. I tell myself I’ll shake it up and start saying no more often, but how can I, when by turning something down I might be missing out on something?

Some of that hard work paid off last week, after all, with the launch of the latest Edinburgh Review, which we held at the lovely new Looking Glass Books, and it was great fun. The readers were fab and there was some good chat in the pub afterwards.

Do you say yes when really you mean ‘No, I’m too busy, go away and leave me alone. Unless you have cake.’?

The Freaks are unleashed

I have been looking forward to the release of Freaks for some time, and now the day is finally here.

A collection of short fiction by the lovely Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes with illustrations by Darren Craske it looks to be a treat to my story and comic loving self.

So I’m super happy to have this little sneak peak of some of the wonders inside…….


[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]


If I stay totally still,

if I stand right tall,

with me back against the school wall,

close to the science room’s window,

with me feet together,

pointing straight,

aiming forward,

if I make me hands into tight fists,

make me arms dead straight,

 if I push me arms into me sides,

if I squeeze me thighs,

stop me wee,

if me belly doesn’t shake,

if me boobs don’t wobble,

if I close me eyes tight,

so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,

if I push me lips into me mouth,

if I make me teeth bite me lips together,

if I hardly breathe,

if I don’t say a word.


I’ll magic meself invisible,

and them lasses will leave me alone.

You mean I can’t check my emails on holiday?

In recent years, Fin and I have noticed how difficult it is to have an actual holiday. You know, the kind where you just kick back and relax. We’re always thinking about, well, stuff. Emails to answer, stories to plot, articles to write, people to worry about: all those things, all the time. I’m especially guilty, I check messages on my phone compulsively, as though I could find an email there that will end the world if I don’t answer it immediately. Ridiculous.

So with this habit in mind, I wondered how well I would get on during our short holiday on the coast, staying in a fabulous cottage from The Creative Retreat folks that not only had no net connection, but also no mobile reception or even a landline. Surprisingly well, it turned out.

The cottage was lovely, the village beautiful, the weather rough but forgiving and the peace very welcome. Putting myself on call constantly doesn’t normally feel as though it’s bothering me, but I have this feeling that, maybe if I didn’t, I might just be a little bit happier and get a hell of a lot more writing done.

I can’t wait for our next holiday.

Where does your imagination reside?

This year, I am making a conscious effort to reawaken a sense of curiosity and do things that spark my imagination. It’s something I suppose I have been putting off for some time, because I guess I liked to think that I already possessed these qualities.

But now that I have more time to ponder and daydream, I’ve been forced to admit that they are not as strong as they once were and that I am more naturally inclined to think about, well, boring stuff when given half the chance.

Is this a symptom of getting older or does it have something to do with letting myself live a life that is ruled by deadlines and making enough money? I also wonder how much of it is just plain old laziness. Why imagine things when someone else could do it for me? (I do love it when someone else does it for me.)

As part of this project, I’m trying to work out exactly what it is that is most likely to persuade my imagination into a flight of fancy. I’m reading loads, going to exhibitions, restricting the watching of TV shows and generally trying to not check the emails on my phone every five minutes.

Me as a wee 'un

But am I missing something here? Is there anything you do to shake your mind out of the mundane?

I recently wrote a guest post for the lovely Kirsty Logan for her Thievery series – posts about the inspiration behind stories – and I enjoyed the process a lot, mainly because it encouraged me to recall some childhood holidays I hadn’t thought about for a long while.

Hurrah for Love your Library Day

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, too much of an excuse for forced decelerations of the kind of love I’d rather see seeping through in the day to day, so I’m chuffed to bits with the idea of a Feb day to pledge your adoration for libraries instead.

This year, Midlothian libraries are celebrating Love your Library Day on the 4th of February with a program of comedy, readings and gigs, all taking place in local libraries. With support from comedians like Frankie Boyle and Miles Jupp, popular Edinburgh bands and, of course, plenty of authors, it should be a great day to remember how much libraries mean to us all. Check out the Midlothian Libraries’ press release to find out what’s happening in a library near you.

Since deciding to freelance it up, I’ve spent a lot more time in my two local libraries in the last three months than in the 10 years before that, and I am amazed by the big mix of people that seem to spend a lot of time there. Sometimes I have to fight for a seat, once I got told off for accidentally sitting in the area reserved for teenagers and today I witnessed a rather elderly gentleman use the computer to check out the alluring yet badly formatted profiles of some ladies from Asia.

True, we all might get something a little different from our trips to the library, but whether it’s the chance to dream about an alternative and unlikely future or to become submerged in a story about the past, it’s very lucky we have somewhere to do it.

I am especially pleased that this year, I’ll be reading some stories in Penicuik Library along with the lovely ladies from my Leith writer’s group. This is the library my mum works in and the one that my little brothers go to, so it’s one I’m really looking forward to sharing a few words in.

Forget about flowers, chocolates and overpriced tat, show your love for your library with wonderful words and sounds this February.

What are you reading this Christmas?

The boy’s birthday weekend is over, and it was lovely. He liked his presents, we met up with loads of friends and family and watched a few movies. I fell behind a little on work, hence a hellish number of pages to get through at the beginning of this week, but everything should be back on an even keel soon. And there’s something to look forward too – all that extra reading you get to do over Christmas!

When I was young and completely unable to sleep, I went through a phase of reading the whole of a Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. I think that only lasted for about three years, but it was a good time while it lasted, and it’s a book that now has a particularly special place in my heart.

Now, I still sometimes find it hard to sleep before Christmas (so grown up), so I need to make sure I have an extra interesting book in my pile to keep me quiet while I’m back in the family home and everyone else is sleeping. Then there’s Christmas day itself, where I’m bound to get at least one or two books, and even if I don’t I can guarantee someone in my family will, taking care of spare hours on the day itself and boxing day. And the quiet day where you go back to your own home after being caught up in a whirlwind of family? Perfect time to snuggle in with yet another book.

I’ve just finished re-reading The Stone Diaries and Zoe Heller’s Everything You Know (rewards because I read a few books I didn’t enjoy so much recently) and Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad blew me away. Now I have a stack of books donated by Fin’s folks to get stuck into but I’m definitely taking Anton Chekhov’s A Russian Affair with me for the night before Christmas in all of its Penguin Great Loves beauty. What are you reading? Do you have a traditional ‘Christmas Book’?

What was I meant to be doing again?

Oh yeah, I was meant to be, like, you know, writing stuff. Except I haven’t been, even though I did my desk up all nice and everything.

Well, that’s not true, I have, it’s just been of the copy variety. That’s the thing about freelance isn’t it, you always want to say yes to every job, just in case it’s the last one that’s ever offered. Never fear though, I have lovely friend who already tuts and tells me off when I accept too many briefs and, get this, the other week I turned down a job for what was, I think, the first time ever.

So I’ve not been getting as much done as I wanted, but I did do some successful Christmas shopping today. Spying a million things I never realised I wanted along the way, of course – the dangers of going to the shops, something I don’t normally do.

And last week was grand, because we had the launch of the latest issue of the Edinburgh Review, with its lovely cover image from Fin, and the fabulous Gwendoline Riley and Ewan Morrison treated us to some top quality readings. Happy times. I also enjoyed the wine, maybe a little too much.

Overall, I’m pretty good and people even keep telling me I look refreshed. I think working from home (and sleeping for more than six hours a night) totally suits me.

One month in, freelancing funtimes

It’s officially been a month since I quit my full time job in favour of a freelance existence. So far, so good. I’m still in one piece, people have been paying my invoices in a timely fashion and I haven’t become addicted to day time TV (to be fair, we don’t have a TV aerial, so this is less to do with willpower than I would like to think).

I haven’t quite managed to write loads of stories, which to be honest was kind of the whole point, but I have really enjoyed the chance to pet a really cute dog, play with my bookshelves and do a lot more reading. There’ve been quite few train journeys in the last few weeks, so I’ve been making the most of my new wee Kindle.

That said, I was feeling quite discouraged for a while, because I think I read three novels on the trot which I’d heard were good but turned out to be kind of unsatisfying. I won’t say what they were, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for the thought of author’s Googling their own names and making lists of every slightly negative thing anyone has said about them ever.

Luckily, this disappointing run was broken with A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I loved and which reminded me what it feels like to be in the hands of a capable author. More books like that please. How much time can I reasonably spend reading and pass it off as research?

Portobello and West Port – book festival frenzy

Photo by Sonja Bettina Klein

I love living in Edinburgh, so much so I’ve never really managed to live anywhere else (yet). Sometimes that makes me feel a little ashamed, especially knowing as many fabulous people from around the world as I do, but then times like the last few months roll around and I remember one of the things that’s so great about this city – its festivals.

From the International Book festival in August – where I was thrilled to take part in Story Shop – to the two local and enthusiastic efforts that brighten up a dreary October – The Portobello Book Festival and the West Port Book Festival.

Both of these are run by teams of very friendly and dedicated book lovers, and it’s wonderful to see the support they pick up locally. I’ve been running around so much recently, trying to get organised that I’ve not had time to write about either of these excellent festivals in more detail, but here are a few of my highlights.

  • Giving a talk on paperless Publishing in Portobello Library, where I used to weekly max out my lending capabilities when I was but a kid. I’m also planning on putting up the hand out of useful links I wrote for this, as soon as I have a spare few minutes and the right computer!
  • Speaking to Janice Galloway at the same (I babbled a little, because I do love her work so) and then staying to listen to her in a very entertaining interview later to be on the BBC Book Café – I do recommend you tune in if you spot it.
  • Taking part in a workshop about writing and publishing (also at Porty) featuring Francis Bickmore, Alan Guthrie – who is soon launching new ebook venture Blasted Heath) and Marianne Paget – most useful and inspirational.
  • Reading as part of the Bugged event in Peter Bell Books at the West Port, where I got to read alongside excellent poets Jo Bell, Rob A. MacKenzie and Helen Addy.
  • Managing to squeeze in to see Rachel Boast and J.O. Morgan at West Port despite not having a ticket, and being blown away – you can check out podcasts of them here.
  • Meeting some fabulous writers and book lovers at all of these events, there are few things I like more.
  • So Edinburgh, I’m not sure I’ll ever leave you at this rate – keep the bookish events coming and you’ve probably got me snagged.

    Ebooks, an independent’s view: Fledgling Press

    Talk about ebooks is everywhere at the moment, but to writers and readers, the discussion can seem somewhat polarized. Either the book is dead and we’ll only be served up generic fiction sanctioned by the biggest companies, or we’re facing a deluge of self-published rubbish. However, it’s a much bigger picture – and one that’s looking rosy for some independent publishers, who may not be hitting the headlines so frequently but sure are getting on with quietly revolutionising the way they work.

    One such publisher is Edinburgh’s Fledging Press. I met with Paul Cain, the Digital Director of the company, the other week, and his enthusiasm for ebooks and the opportunities they’d bring shone through. He explained that the press had been considering digital books long before the Kindle explosion of last Christmas, and therefore were probably keener and better placed than many small presses to take advantage of the sudden boom in interest.

    Fledgling has a number of ebooks already out and a number of plans in the pipeline, so I asked Paul how difficult it was for them to add this facet to their business. Not too difficult at all it seems. With the conversion of proofs into ePub formats taking less than a day in-house and costing somewhere between £50-100 to outsource, Paul gave the impression he couldn’t understand why anyone would chose not to expand into the arena.

    Of course, it’s one thing to have created an ebook and another to get it in front of readers, a problem facing all big, independent and self publishers these days. Fledgling make use of Faber Factory when it comes to distribution, and possibly would have gone with them for the formatting on their ebook files if they hadn’t found doing it themselves to be entirely possible.

    But, as Paul pointed out, converting the book is only one part of a very long process, and when we discussed the ways books – and their low overheads – could provide encouragement for those considering self-publishing, he talked about all of the things you can expect a publisher to do for you before you make it to actual publication, such as editing and proofing, as well as all the things it will do afterwards, such as promotion and advertising.

    I asked him how authors felt about the idea of having their work in ebook form, and he said their response has been overwhelmingly positive. However, I wasn’t at all surprised when he confirmed that yes, the majority of writers wanted to see their book in physical form too. The publisher does have one client they are currently working for in ebook form only, and that’s R. J. Mitchell, whose book was out in print in the US but was looking for a way to distribute locally. His contract meant that ebooks were an option, and Parallel Lines ended up being the company’s bestseller this year.

    Paul is looking forward to the experiments Fledging Press will be able to conduct thanks to ebooks – such as tweaking prices, changing marketing plans to suit different demographics and choosing which books are best suited to which mediums. Such is the reasoning behind the specifics of their latest release – Chin’s Sex, Love and Sweet Suicide, which they publicized with help of Twitter and a recorded reading.

    As far as Paul is concerned, digital publishing is all about releasing potential – and that’s exactly the ethos behind Fledgling Press.

    Margaret Irvine, another Fledging Author, is scheduled to speak at Portobello Book Festival this Saturday.