Monday, 28 April 2014

I'm up, on the writing blog tour

Readers, for this post you'll need to put your outdoor shoes on. We're going on a journey, well, not so much a journey, more of a tour. A 'writing blog tour'. Not everyone likes these little pockets of me, me, me wisdom but I love their charm and character, they are a fascinating insight into writing, or more specifically the writing processes of writers. It's like a really posh nosiness, a kind of 'come dine with me' snoop in the bedroom with drama that's not on the stove but in the fingertips of those who cook words and scenarios rather than dinner.

Don't get me wrong, writers eat too but we make an awful lot of things up so an actual come dine with me would most definitely involve some level of fabrication as part of its preparation and delivery. The pastry wouldn't emerge from the simple process of opening a paper bag of flour. The story would more likely begin in the pocket of a battered leather saddle-bag, on the back of a donkey in a partially ploughed field, on a thinly populated island inaccessible by anything other than a bi-annual boat trip. Or something like that..

Okay, for those of you not sure of what is about to whet your appetite, here's how it works. A writer, who has been nominated by another person of words, answers four questions that are designed to reveal something about the inner sanctum of the writers' writing and writing processes. I was nominated by Paul Cuddihy who is a prolific writer of some four published books and he's working on another. He's also really proactive and is incredibly passionate about his love for writing. His enthusiasm gives me a wee shake when I need it. This is one such shake.

Before I answer the questions on the menu, you can read Paul's very well constructed responses to the blog tour HERE.

And to the questions.

What am I working on?
I'm working on my second novel. The process is one of absolute joy and excitement, the kind of all-encompassing satisfaction that makes sense of why I was put on this earth and reminds me of why I write. But then, as is always the case, such moments of joy are always compounded, sometimes just moments later, with sheer panic, a key-stone cop crisis of confidence that has me physically lunging, hopscotching out my despair in comedy, spindly legged fashion.

Drama folks, is definitely part of the writing deal.

Fortunately I don't panic (other than in the actual moment, which is admittedly, quite panicky) as I understand that uncertainty is a part of the process and always, always the way forward emerges. I guess I'm lucky in that I work in a creative environment and I have learned to trust my instincts and believe in my ability to let the right outcome emerge in it's own time. It aye does and it's lovely when it does.

Anyway, the novel, which I won't say too much about for now, has been as long as 35,000 words and is now a little over 15,000. Much of what I had written was telling me what the story was, now I need to show the reader how the narrative and characters will illustrate it. The scythe has been swung and I'm seeing the beauty beneath.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is actually a difficult question to answer as it's not easy to be truly original when writing fiction as characters are always in some respects familiar to the reader, no matter how unique we as writers try to make them. However, I can say that my work is different from others in this genre because I stay true to the characters, I let them be themselves and dictate their journey. It's their narrative and that in itself must equate to difference, no?

My first novel, The Birds That Never Flew featured the Virgin Mary, not as you might think of her, if indeed you have ever thought about thinking of her, but as a young Glaswegian with a local twang and attitude that doesn't hold back. Her 'language' was in some respects her strength, it allowed her to illustrate Elizabeth's vulnerability (the narrator of the story) with a toughness that might not have been as compelling in another tongue. In my new novel, language, or at least an interpretation of it, is a key component of the relationship between two of the central characters, twin brother and sister Barra and Rathlin. I don't want to say too much about it but sometimes language isn't always about talking and that in itself can make the narrative, and the body of the work, different from anything else that is out there.

Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because I believe that the stories aren't just important to me, they reflect the narrative journey of the world that we all peel away from and then just as frequently disappear into, our rollercoaster lives bouncing along with drama and pain and tragedy and sometimes even joy. There's a lot of me and the world I understand in my characters and I'm sure my experiences are shared and that my stories are a reflection of what is to some a familiar and often overwhelming world.  I think consuming writing you already know the taste of can be even better than devouring a big bowl of your favourite mashed spuds (or insert similar comfort food fetish)...

I also write the way I do because I am compelled to, my stories are character driven and they don't sit about saying whheeessstt if anyone tries to speak. They holler, I listen and then I do my best to capture what they are saying.

How does my writing process work?
Probably not in the most efficient way. I tend to write a little blind, I know roughly what my hypothesis is (although that seems a little crude) and who my key characters are and then I start to write. I'll have an absolute sense of who my protagonists are and what their story is, but I let them drive the narrative as we go along, giving some of the plot responsibility to them. This process means that characters develop on the road and their outcomes alter or emerge completely differently. For example, I always knew Elizabeth's story in The Birds That Never Flew and I always knew that Mary would impact on her life as she carried out her quest for 'revenge' but the other key characters; Sadie, Paddy, Alan, Larry Spencer, Collette and Laura developed their own characteristics along the way and challenged most of the notions I had of how they would drive the story. It's living a wee bit on the edge, but it's fun when it's working!

I'm doing the same in my new novel, I know absolutely what Rathlin and Barra's story is but I'm writing with five or six additional characters and they are all emerging and adapting and making the conflicting narratives so much more interesting than anything I could have pre-planned. I'm trusting my instincts and the fact that the characters are strong enough to shape the story in a manner which is natural to the people I am writing about. Well, I am at the moment, ask me again at the end of the day and I'll undoubtedly be in crisis...

I write when I can, which isn't as often as I would like it to be, but even when I don't have pen on paper (or fingertips on keyboard) I'm scribbling away beneath my eyelids, absorbing situations that I know will work.

I always, though, start the day creatively, writing a 140 character piece of prose on Twitter that illustrates the world I see beyond my eyes. Before I get out of bed I look out of the window and write about what's in front of me, being as honest and open as I can. It's about seeing what's really there, not what appears to be there at first glance. The world is an astonishing place, if we choose to look at it with our eyes open to possibilities. It's a wee bit twee I guess but it starts my day positively and in my hectic life you can't hope for any more than that!

And that my lovely readers is that.

It's time I went back to my writing and as I do I will pass the blog tour baton on to the amazing Sara Sheridan who will undoubtedly be an intriguing asset to this process.

Sara is a hugely successful author and is the creator of the Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries - a series of 1950s murder mysteries that have been dubbed 'Miss Marple with an edge'. She also writes historical novels based on the real-life adventures of Georgian and Victorian explorers. She is also incredibly hard working so I'm really keen (nosey!) to learn more about how she manages to be both creative and prolific in equal abundance.

She'll be posting her responses on the 12th of May. In the meantime you can find out a bit more about her prolific writing career HERE:

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Favourite books and much more with Paul the Hunted!

My friend, the writer Paul Cuddihy, has just released a new book, Read All About It, a non-fiction work to follow his recent historical novel trilogy. He's a busy man. You can read all about him, and his writing processes here. Incidentally, you'll find a link to a post called 'Blog Tour' on his website and you'll also find that I'm next up. I'll be posting my own responses in the next couple of weeks before being followed by the amazing Sara Sheridan.

Anyway, the point of the post! Paul has been conducting a series of podcast interviews where he has been finding out a little bit more about writers - exploring favourite books, not so favourite books and bits and pieces about their writing.

I was kindly asked to take part and this podcast in the result of a very enjoyable afternoon catching up with an old friend who just gets it. I've said it before, writing can be a lonely experience and whilst that is undoubtedly also one of the benefits it's also nice to chat to others who understand the agony and the ecstasy..

So, HERE we go. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Women writers, #WoMentoring is for you. YES YOU.

This isn't ground-breaking news to most, but I'm a woman.

This isn't actually a problem in itself. I love being a woman, I'm comfortable in this role. In fact, I actually think it quite suits me. However, there is an issue. The problem isn't in being a woman itself, it is in the unequal access to opportunities that we often face, as women.

It's 2014, there has been universal suffrage in the UK since 1928, and yet we women often earn less than men and find it difficult to advance in our careers to the same level as men.

Pah! That's pretty unacceptable and it's a much bigger problem than I'm able to tackle at the moment but I do work away at it, hacking away at barriers and hurdling others when I can. I might be just a wee girly thing but I'm the Managing Director of a TV company, I'm a Director of another TV company and some of my programme making involves working in the male dominated world of sport. Yep, a lassie who dares to venture into that realm. A lot of the time it's fine but even still, despite my knowledge and my 20 years experience I still get "could your boss no make it the day hen" disparaging looks at some meetings....

Anyway, like I said, it isn't my intention to blether about problems, this wee post is about solutions.

One thing at a time my exceptional ladies. Something heartening and positive is happening and it's just for you.

I'm also a writer. A novelist. And let's face it, writing is difficult for everyone. It's not easy to snatch 'the big break'. There isn't someone on the street corner dishing out golden publishing contracts to the miraculous few who managed to walk the path without standing on a crack or splitting a pole.

It takes time to find a home for your writing; it also takes a lot of hard work, definitely some luck and even finance to get to the place you need to be. Finance that not everyone has. And, yep, you've guessed it. If you're a woman it can be that bit harder. We get reviewed less, we earn less...blah blah you know the pattern. It's not easy.

However, good things. Thanks to the amazing and unbelievably determined Kerry Hudson there is now a wonderful opportunity for female writers to source free advice and engage in female support in the form of the WoMentoring Project.

The project offers a hand and an ear to women writers who are bustling with talent but just that little bit uncertain, and skint; exceptional women who can't afford to buy advice. We, as in the WoMentoring mentors, are going to offer that advice and any additional support we can to make the road a little bit less stressful. I'm thrilled to be one of the mentors in the project.

Have a look below and you'll find out everything you need to know about the mentoring service. Please read the instructions carefully and if you're going to apply I wish you every success. WoMentoring is like a group hug with a kick in the ass thrown in for good measure. We'll give you love but we'll also make you stronger. Let's do this girls. Like I say, bit by bit. We'll get there...

Here's a link to my profile on the #Womentoring website. If you think I can offer you support and guidance then please apply! Good luck!

Oh, and if you're having a gander at the #Womentoring Twitter page, please follow and stop by to say a big thank you to Kerry Hudson as without her this wouldn't be happening. An exceptional woman indeed.  So, details below and lots more information on the website!


The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is 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.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project - from the project management to the website design to the PR support - is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 

Why do we need it?

Like many great ideas the WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers - largely writers, editors and agents - who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is run on an entirely voluntary basis and all of our mentors are professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.


In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn't possible so instead we've tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about how they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be for a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. Selections will be at the mentor's discretion.  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

time is but a blizzard of moments, steal them and run!

Time is magical.

It is magic.

It constantly moves; shape-shifting and dancing, moulding new moments from sandy memories, stealing the silence of sleep and blurring the image into something familiar and different in the blink of a fluttering eye. The stars are lit and unlit and dew falls and scatters, chasing new and existing dreams as the dawn glows. We grow, time washing over us, the colours changing, cloudy silence etching features that bend and stretch into the glitter of captured breath.

My children arrived on Rathlin today, kicking their shoes off in the house in Mullindress and pushing their adult frames into the skyline, their steps natural and free, their spirits at home in the island that has sheltered them year on year since their most formative years. Over the years we have changed, yet the bonds have strengthened. Roots stretch deeper and family flow, chasing the new day like a winding stream.

I watched my son and daughter come off the ferry this morning, smiling as I glanced at time, frozen for a moment, welcoming them home. They will be 26 and 28 this year and yet they throw their heads back and laugh in the same way they did 25 years ago, they entertain time and embrace it, savouring the past but standing up to the future.

When I look in their eyes; one child piercing blue and another grey/green, both reflecting the sea and the sky, I see in them both kindness and a determination not just to be alive but to live. As a parent you can't ask for more and for that reason I am eternally blessed. It's that determination that is going to ensure that the child who is sick will push through the boundaries and walk in the same fields, under the same moonlight, where we have bowed to the melodies of time.

It doesn't belong to us but we'll continue to capture it's blizzard of moments, stealing petals of laughter, heads thrown back and throats open, silence resting in the twilight.