Are you an aspiring author with an escape plan?

Being a writer is, arguably, easy. Being a published writer who can gain a great deal of satisfaction and maybe some monetary return for their efforts is much, much harder. Yet, every year hundreds of thousands of hopefuls strike out and try to grab hold of their dreams. Aren’t we the silly ones?

My questions for you, fellow dreamers, concern how you’ve gone about this process.

Living the dream

Living the dream

a) Do you have a careful, moderate career plan? Have you built back up options? Formulated an escape plan that will keep you safe and sound should the castle in the sky crumble? Do you have one foot on the ground?

b) Or are you completely focused on the one goal? Convinced that you’ll only succeed if you know you have nothing to lose? Did you grab the bull by the horns knowing that there’s nothing to cushion your fall, should it come? Are you jumping in with both feet?

Option a), one foot firmly on the ground, has served me well over the years. It’s kept food on the table and coffee in my cup. I even like to think it’s not held me back. Not terribly, anyway. But that doesn’t stop me wishing I was an option b) kind of person. The one who will succeed or crash and burn gloriously in the attempt.

Is that you? Does fear keep you up at night? Is it worth it? Did you sell your house and auction off your granny to finance your first book? Scare me with your determination, please.

How to be in a room with people

Sometimes, when you’re a writer or employed in another similarly lonesome way, it’s quite hard to be in a room with other people. You get used to being on your own. You have to, because otherwise you go nuts and never get anything done. And being alone is generally great for your productivity (as long as you stop yourself from searching out fleeting connections online).

The thing is, humans are by nature incredibly social creatures and that means that if you want to hang on to as many of your marbles as you can, you’re best to make contact with the outside world occasionally. It’s been about eleven months since I gave up my day job to be a freelancing lounger and literary bounder. So far, it’s been ace and I’ve not really missed sharing office space one bit.

So far so good. Apart from the fact that last month I headed off to a fab Arvon course at Monaick Mhor and immediately was petrified by being in such a gorgeous and remote location with so many other people. Lucky for all on the Advanced Fiction Course, the group was completely nutter-free and we all got along peacefully and productively, but that didn’t stop me spending the first night wondering what the hell I was doing.

I was out of practice. I’d forgotten how to deal with people for more than the short amount of time you might spend chatting to them in a bar or over coffee and it made me feel horribly out of my depth.

Now I’ve been reminded that no matter how much of an anti social Grinch you can be in a working environment, it’s good for you to make the effort sometimes. Other people don’t normally bite, but you might if you spend too much time frothing rabidly and wrestling with words alone at your desk. Or is that just me?

Where The Nurses Drink

The wee group of nurses comes in every Thursday night. They’re all pretty girls, but he’s taken a shine to the redhead. Twenty years ago he would have told her so, now he just watches. Plenty punters do crack on, they get a bit of banter and some lovely smiles but that’s it.

The nurses laugh a lot, which Paul likes, and that time one of his boys slit a finger open on the lime knife, Paul’s redhead bandaged it up for him beautifully.

For them, Paul has started adding a case of those teeny tonic bottles to his beer order. Not that they drink so many G&Ts, no Friday hangovers allowed.

This Thursday, there’s a new nurse.

‘You work in the hospital as well, love?’ Paul said.

‘I do.’

‘You like the nursing then?’


‘The rest of the girls there, seem to live for it.’

‘They told you they were nurses?’ she said, jerking her head towards Paul’s favourite table with her lips twisted up. ‘That’s a medical physicist, two nuclear medicine consultants and a radiology specialist.’

Paul looks at her, then back to his wee group. They’re chatting and laughing just the same way they always do.

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Smut and Monsters

If I was a little richer, I’d be on my way to Manchester right now to help the FlashTag crew celebrate the launch of Quickies, a book of flash fictions that’s sure to be a regular smut fest. A have a wee story in there myself, and would’ve loved to join the nice people I met back in for an evening of raunchy readings, but sometimes the bank balance has other ideas.

Luckily, I am somewhat consoled by the fact I’ll be reading with Illicit Ink in Edinburgh on Sunday, as part of Monsters, Ink. Looking forward to hearing what spooky fare the line-up is planning on dishing out.

So it’s a week of smut and monsters, and is likely to turn out to be more exciting than most.

Mini adventures of the bookish kind

Recently I’ve had a bit more work-related travel than usual, and you know what that means – extra reading time! In the last few weeks I’ve read a whole bunch, including The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber, Not so Perfect – Nik Perring and The Stars in the Bright Sky, which were a pretty ideal mix to be honest. All very different (and not just in length!) and great in their own ways. But it’s not all been about reading quietly on the train, I also read a flash story out loud at the FlashMob event in Manchester. As always, a bit scary, but that’s the third time I’ve done it and I still haven’t burst into hysterical laughter or starting trying to scramble over the audience to escape, so I’ve chalking it up as a success. All the folks were lovely, especially Nik Perring (the guest reader who read from the collection mentioned above) and the judges, especially Roland and Sarah-Clare and Tom, who made sure I ended my journey a bit tipsy and safe in the knowledge that girls who say ‘judge a man by his shoes and I don’t like politics’ are a little scary. All of the shortlisted stories are available to read online now, including my storyand the worthy winners. Another story of mine popped up on the web this week (always a flood or a drought eh?), and you get a squiz of Chewed Blankets in Spilling Ink Review number 5. In there you’ll also find Benjamin Judge, who happened to be one of the organizers of the FlashMob event. Almost like it was meant to happen… There’s also a nonfiction piece by the super Chelsea Cargill, who just happens to be in my writers group, hurrah. It’s so nice to feel as though you are in good company, and that there are so many awesome and friendly writers out there – my faith in the community spirit of writing has been restored.

Wee story at Imagining Scotland

A while ago I wrote a wee story inspired, as so many are, by one of those moments I’d rather forget about. The moment safely changed to another, I sent it along to Imagining Scotland, part of the Scottish Wave of Change projects, and they agreed to pop it on their site.

If you fancy a wee read, it’s at

I assumed that one day I’d grow up and be good at this stuff

Me as a wee 'un

Look at me. I thought it was all going to fall into my lap didn’t I? I should have known better.

There were plenty of things I assumed I would be good at, as soon as I hit some magic age.

Silly me.

Things I assumed I’d be good at by the time I was an adult:

  • Meeting new people
  • Paying bills on time and knowing what all the charges are for
  • Understanding taxes
  • Voting for the best political party
  • Exercising twice a week
  • Effortlessly maintaining a loving relationship
  • Writing

Things I am good at:

  • Getting embarrassed, even when new people are very nice
  • Paying bills blindly, assuming companies know what they are doing
  • Ignoring taxes
  • Voting for the party I think sound nicest
  • Swimming when the mood takes me
  • Forgetting why it’s important to pay attention to your relationship sometimes
  • Wishing I was better at writing

It seems these things do not come automatically with age.

It seems I will have to work hard on them if I want to improve.


Bettering my day

This is one jam packed looking week, but luckily (apart from a trip to the dentist) all of the engagements should be interesting and fun ones. That’s how I feel about it today anyway. Yesterday, I was in a pretty bad mood by the time the afternoon rolled around – work looked never-ending and the thought of doing all of the fun things I have planned for the week gave me that weird, worried feeling I think all people who try and balance a writing/working/social life suffer every time their calendar gets a little busy.

When am I am going to have time to write? Such a selfish question, but one that bugs me so often. So there I was, grousing away, and then I got an email from Ether Books saying they were going to publish another couple of my stories. All of a sudden, the grumpiness lifted: it’s possible to make it all fit, I remembered, you just can’t have it all at once. Sometimes you have to put up with a rubbishy day of deadlines and work problems, and you have to accept you won’t get much done for the rest of the week and you have to resign yourself to getting up a couple of hours early in the morning. It’s worth it.

The new story on Ether is called Bettering Yourself and it’s free at the moment, so go ahead download for your iPad/Pod/Touch if you fancy a little subtle horror on your lunch break.

Bettering Yourself – Hypnosis to make the fat melt away? She knows it’s too good to be true, but it doesn’t stop her hoping.

Hope everyone else is having a good week, whether they’ve managed to book themselves a quiet one or they are running around headless chicken style like me

Today, I am Various

Various Authors from The Fiction Desk

Various Authors from The Fiction Desk

Don’t worry, I’m not having some kind of crisis, I know I’m only one person really (although I guess that’s a questionable concept for any kind of writer). However, not only am I not suffering from some kind of personality disorder, but I am a pleased as punch kind of person today, as details for Various Authors – a new regular anthology from the folks behind The Fiction Desk – have been announced and you’ll find my name among the many.

Together, we are various; alone, I merely vary.

I’m really looking forward to receiving and reading this, there are some impressive and interesting names in there, but I will have to be patient for just a little while longer. Actually, it is due to be released on April 18 – the day after the new flat will finally be hooked up to the net. I have a feeling that is going to be a good week.

When is a book not a book?

As technology grows ever snazzier, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to work out exactly what the word ‘book’ defines. Back when I was a kid that was a pretty easy question to work out. A book was a collection of pages bound together, normally with a pretty picture on the cover. True, some books were made of cloth and some were even waterproof and inflatable (I wish you could get those bath time books for adults), but they were all essentially the same thing.

Then there were audio books and story tapes, and these were a little trickier to classify, but it wasn’t much of a problem, seeing as you’d naturally assume there was a solid, paper book present during the creation of the tape – they had to be reading the story from something after all.

The movement of stories from paper and print to pixels muddied the water slightly, but when I think of ebooks, I still think of something that resembles a physical book. In my mind, it’s just a digital representation of those paper creations I know and love – whether it’s a whole book on my laptop or a short story on Ether, it’s still a ‘book’ to me.

But yesterday I saw a news story about Penguin’s new book for babies, which seems to be an interactive story experience on the iPad for the teeny ones, and I started wondering when you reached the point where a book was no longer a book. True, many children’s books are interactive – from those cute ones with spaces for finger puppets to pop up varieties – but then, so are plenty of video games.

Getting stuck into a console based game such as Final Fantasy or Fable isn’t considered the same thing as reading a book, and I definitely don’t think it should be, but there’s plenty of storytelling – and generally reading involved in these experiences.

So, if playing games like those are considered something very separate from reading a book, where do you draw the line when it comes to the new, multimedia offerings that are being branded as books these days? I’m thinking of things like the new Penguin release, or Ann Rice’s ebook experiment, or any of the other new developments that combine traditional books with new technology to make something new. When does a book stop being a book? Or does the word book just have a totally different meaning these days?