Sunday, 28 December 2014

the brilliant moon is rising

As 2014 draws to a close I look beyond the horizon and see 2015 waiting on the shoulder of tomorrow, its imminent arrival promising new beginnings and new life. I'll be meeting my grandson in a matter of days, or hours; moments that are hurdling the precipice of soon. He's doing well, thriving healthily in his mother's womb, causing my heart to race when he kicked up a fuss with contractions during boxing day Christmas dinner. He thought better of it and continues to pay homage to his mummy, his life sheltered, his heart content, his wee cheeks filling out with each passing day. He's a wee brother for Tommy, a child missed and always loved, and poignantly, he's a cousin for the next in line, my daughter's news creating a stir at the dinner table in a scan picture that shapes all of our futures, a joyful journey that will take us all far and wide, the globe spinning on our sweet talk and excitement.

As I look out the window the brilliant moon is rising, its liquid silver foraging, its waves guarding over the fading light in the sky, its pink and yellow glow resting on chimney tops, hugging what's left of another day. In the street, beyond closing curtains, table lamps are flickering, creating shadows that chase the sun, pushing into an evening where Christmas continues to glisten, colourful strobes contrasting with the crisp frost that has coveted pavements and windscreens and made them its own. We go about our business, inside our cocoons, the chill shivering on the outside as the seconds chase minutes and the hours holler after sun slipping from the paths that we carefully tread.

A flight is lost, a ferry is on fire, families are crumbling at the loss of their loved ones in Glasgow's George Square, and in the midst of all this pain and incomprehensible tragedy we remind ourselves that each and every one of us is fragile, embracing what we have, paying homage to the little bits of happiness we can source in the stars that hover like birds against the highest mountain.  We remind ourselves to remember to fly. To soar and climb and push beyond the clouds and the shadows and cradle the dark even when it isn't ours.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Christmas spirit in the sky.

At 2.30am I was awake and drowning in the business of my mind and the equally intense nagging of gnawing joints that had locked into themselves creating their finest, rigid, RA sculptures.

Aware that sleep and I had most definitely parted company for the night I distracted myself by watching the beauty of the moon as it cast its brilliant light against my stormy mind. The night sky was blue, the palest colour, as if the virgin had unhooked her cloak and smothered us in its scented fabric.  The surrounding clouds were icy-white, crackling in a murmur of incessant conversation. There I was, a tiny fragment, poised on my hunkers gazing at a canvas of my life; the stars and clouds mapping the journey so far, bright pockets of brilliance contrasting with the pits of moulded darkness where the light stole something but didn't quite shine. It was so apt it was surreal, I could press my fingers against the glass and caress moments of magic, or push the darkness beyond the glare of the moon that was stained to perfection.

We do that don't we. Push beyond the darkness because that's the best way, the only way. The moments of brilliance, the stars in the moonlit sky come in many guises; the son who is finally coming to a point in his weekly treatment for a potentially fatal genetic disease where there is hope of management of the illness, a daughter who continues to make me laugh and proud in equal measure, a grandson who continues to thrive as we excitedly and anxiously wait to meet him, a sister who says she loves me because I make her laugh and a best, bestest friend who asks me what he can do to make things better and means it every single time he says it.

After I watched the sky and the stars I watched the telly. A silly, but mildly poignant Christmas movie that illustrated the same sentiment as the earlier moon display outside my window. It was fun and distracting and had me singing carols on the sofa at 4am. It was a welcome distraction but I didn't really need it. Who needs the Christmas movie channel when the festive spirit is in the sky day in and day out.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

the world can be a creature unimagined..

The few people that know me best know that every morning I fire in head first and live for the day, the one I'm actually in, the one where I can do my best to try and make something, anything, that little bit more okay than it might have been. I'm no talking in Nobel prize winning terms here, ah'm no a do-gooder, aspiring saint or an evangelical nutter; but I always take the view that I may as well try my best and see if ah can manage tae get a no bad wee day out of the hours I'm firing into.

I suspect I'm not alone in this madness, sometimes there's a smile or a wee familiar welcome that lets me know that there's a whole flippin gang of us, positioned strategically worldwide, our remit to gain strength from trying to focus on the positive. We're not actually looking for that much, we just want tae have a day that lets us move forward, take a wee step tae something that isn't gaunnae drag us tae a place we don't really want tae go. We're challenging ourselves tae be better than that. THAT. Any of the piss that has invaded the past.

But alas, shit invariably happens and so indeed comes the not so good bits; the periods when the world around us suddenly raises its head and emerges as a creature unimagined and the instinct is to fall in the wake of the hurtfulness of others. Everything gets cloudy, a smog so thick you could cut shapes in it. When this happens the actuality is to fall, right on your flippin face, smack bang into the shit and it invariably happens, a unexplored negativity grasping so hard on your ankles that the bones might actually shatter. A red card, a penalty, an insult to injury. A lesson in life. You bend and stretch and teeter on the edge of dissolution. When that happens, to any of us, we are a fraction away from becoming a solution of the wrong sort. We're as crap as the shit oan a dog walker's shoe.

But we can't be everything, sometimes, to some people, we can't even be anything much at all and that in itself has to be okay and part of living for the day. This day. This day that brings me one day closer to meeting my second grandson. After the heartache of the stillbirth of Tommy every day has been a mix of excitement and worry but the wee fella is doing remarkably well and his arrival is becoming increasingly closer. But it is also incredibly far away. There are a lot of days to be negotiated and prayers to be said as we wait for his appearance and hear his much anticipated voice. He will always be Tommy's brother and a reminder that love and respect are most important things in every day; not the bullshit that every so often creates a stink loud enough tae take control.

That's what today brings, a journey. And tomorrow will bring one too and that one will be even better than the one before.

It's gaunnae be great. Ah defy anyone tae tell me any different, especially me.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

documentary writing-different from fiction?

Writing fiction and writing, producing and directing factual documentary films are different disciplines. To some extent at least the creative processes are poles apart.
Fiction is freestyle; it is frequently an embodiment of the writer’s mind, heart and soul, the dilution or embellishment of people and memories, a complex explosion of inspiration that forms a narrative strand and becomes a haunting or beautiful story.
In contrast recounting a story in documentary form is accurate, its narrative is wholly reflective of that thing fictional writers often stay away from, truth. Where a novel is generated from a seed of something that non-writers may regard as nothing, a doc is a valuable interpretation of an actual moment or event in time. Its testimony is precise and powerful.
That’s one interpretation. However, in my experience as a writer of both disciplines, factual and fiction are indeed different, but they are also so similar you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the elements are exactly the same. Indeed, often the twain meet.
When we write a novel our characters’ dialogue, background and surroundings drive the narrative. We use our personality to tell ‘another’s’ story, drawing from the complex persona of fictional characters to create a sense of belonging and an understanding of where the plot is taking the reader. It is fiction, and therefore freestyle, but that said we are using key devices to generate our outcomes.
Margot McCuaig
In documentary film making we are actually doing a very similar thing. The testimony of programme contributors is the equivalent of our fictional dialogue; they are the characters we want our viewers to engage and emphasise with. Similarly, the voice-over and film cutaways are our prose, our positioning of place, and as with the narrator in fiction, they provide the context for the viewer in television.
These key elements set the scene and illustrate the testimony in a visual format. In fiction we describe what we want the reader to see, in documentary film we show the viewer. In fiction our dialogue is crisp, definitive, true to the characters; in factual it is accurate, sharp, edited honestly so it delivers the point objectively and as dramatically as possible.
When I’m working in each discipline I use different tools to deliver the same objective. Before I begin making a documentary I will have a firm sense of what the story is before I film anything (sound familiar fiction writers?). Once I have an understanding of the hypothesis established in my mind (in fiction you’re replacing this with plot) I will interview the programme contributors at length, (in fiction we call them characters!) recording their personal testimony on tape, capturing their personal reflections and experiences in extended conversation.
In fiction while our characters’ dialogue is fabricated, in a sense they are being interviewed too, albeit via the writer’s mind. Like the interviewee, the character often takes control, talking to us in long-form, frequently over-telling the story, insisting on providing us with information that isn’t really relevant to the plot, making their point in a long, drawn out fashion that needs attacked with an editing siphon. You can see it can’t you, how the twain meet, factual and fiction, contributors and characters telling stories that you have to step away from, review and then siphon to reveal the absolute essentials of the story.
thebirdsthatneverflewConsequently, the editing process of both embodies the same approach. Is the character/contributor being precise, is he or she recounting the information that’s pivotal to the narrative in an engaging, interesting and, where relevant, dramatic way? Is the testimony reflective of the moment, is it moving the story on? Does it illustrate the context and help the reader/viewer understand the story?
In factual and fiction, we’re looking for the same outcome, a confident story that draws our reader or viewer into the narrative and keeps them there, turning pages or staying with the doc as it moves from scene to scene. In documentary film instead of chapters we have what’s often referred to as the ‘three-minute rule’. This is essentially a device where we change the pace or setting and add another strand or element of reveal to the film at timely intervals. Essentially these moving sequences are visual chapters designed keep the viewer watching and engaged in the narrative. Likewise, in novel writing we end a chapter and compel the reader to come back for more.
The processes are very similar although at a personal level there are differences. When I’m working in factual I know exactly where I’m going, the film is a reflection of the truth and can’t deviate from thus so before I go into the edit I am hugely disciplined. On paper I outline every frame of the film, editing the contributors’ testimony so it is precise and poignant, using a skeleton voice-over until I cut the voices on screen.
Once they are telling their story in the right place, at the ideal pace, I add the narrative, writing it is so it accurately reflects the testimony and establishes the context and scene concisely. The process is tight, focused and most importantly absolutely specific. Then I add the colour, the visuals that portray the story with moving facts or illustrative context. Working with facts is a huge responsibility, equally so when it is factual entertainment where it is your duty as a writer to captivate your viewer from start to finish.
All this really helps when I’m editing fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the edit process because I learned how to do it objectively in making television. Sometimes it’s really hard to delete a favourite or funny soundbite from a film but when there’s no place for it, it simply has to go. That’s the same in fiction.
You might think you’ve written the most beautiful sentence ever written but if it doesn’t fit then you have to highlight it and go through with the inevitable. When I delete a sequence from my film timeline I bid it farewell and I send it on its way with a ‘goodbye’ and a wee salute. I reserve that wee process for TV editing only, if I was doing that with fiction I’d probably lose my voice!
So, often the twain shall meet, but fortunately for me, not in the actual writing process. Where I am specific and precise in writing a documentary, in fiction I’m in freefall, losing myself in narratives that soar and fall and then climb to the highest unlit star all over again. I love both forms; their crossovers and their individuality make me a very lucky writer indeed.

Margot writes fiction and her debut novel The Birds That Never Flew was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and published in 2013. She’s currently writing another and loving the blissful freefall of fiction… She works in television in Glasgow, Scotland, and is the Managing Director of one independent production television company and co-owner of another.
Her documentary films and mobile apps are acclaimed and recently nominated for RTS awards. Her work has taken her to amazing places and she has interviewed lots of celebrities and extraordinary people but she loves nothing better than spending time with her children or fuelling her creative spirit at her rural home on Rathlin Island.
Margot is a womentoring mentor.

This article was originally posted on the Women Writers Women's Book site.

Monday, 4 August 2014

writers...ever wondered if doc writing is different from fiction?

The Women Writers website is a fantastic resource for women who write.

It's a platform for exchange, inspiration, learning, support and writing so I was really delighted to be asked to write a guest blog on the differences between writing fact and fiction. I'm really very fortunate to be able to work across both strands and whilst you may think the two are at loggerheads I find that each discipline helps the other... Aye, strangely enough it does.

You can read the blog here: Documentary writing: Different from fiction?

If have any questions or would like to strike up a wee discussion on the topic please do leave a comment and retweet and share the blog so we can engage with lots of other writers!


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

polari book prize longlist & good company

Writing a novel isn't about a craving for success, it's more about a desire for people to take a journey with your narrative and share the fruits of your hard work, tears, laughter and sometimes even moments of exhilaration. Actually, it's not just a desire it's a need, a compulsion to bring your characters to life and tell their story to anyone you can pin down long enough to take the plunge and read it. Finding people who want to read it can be a challenge and to that end whilst Book Prizes aren't everything they open people's eyes - fresh eyes - eyes that one minute were unaware of your existence and then suddenly your novel title is dancing in front of them, asking, no challenging new readers to come forward and, well, read and laugh and cry and take that journey with you.

I'm thrilled therefore, to have made the Longlist for the Polari First Book Prize 2014. It's a fine list and I'm on it, woo hoo! Previous winners have been awesome writing talent and to be in the fray along with people like Pippa Goldschmidt is really exciting. Pippa was also shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 (she came second in the end) so it's really lovely to see our writing being recognised across the field. Following the competition Pippa was published by Freight, and myself by the lovely ThunderPoint publishing who were keen to take a chance on a wee unknown such as myself. I'm really grateful to them for putting their trust in me and my Birds That Never Flew as they are doing their best to get off the ground and spread their wee wings.

One other exciting thing. Kerry Hudson, whose writing is exquisite and adorable, made the shortlist of the Polari in 2013. How good is that for keeping outrageously talented company. A happy day.

The shortlist will be announced on the 8th of September and the winner on the 8th of October. Exciting times and the best thing is I already feel like a winner.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

at the scene of the sweet-sworn vow, humanists & new life

As days go, this was one of monumental status, my son Daniel marrying his gorgeous bride Emma, two kindred spirits promising their hearts and souls to one another in a ceremony so rich with love it crackled like candy apples. It was a beautiful day, the rain pissed down (all day) never removing its wee shiny pouches of glittering wetness from the scene for a second. It was a welcome visitor all the same, we totally understood why the rain that had fallen on their lives, wrapping them in the love and guidance of their developing relationship, wanted to be part of such an important, life-defining, event.

Their love for one another was blessed and bound at a Humanist ceremony, the same Humanist Celebrant who had conducted the farewell funeral ceremony for Daniel and Emma's stillborn son Tommy almost two years ago to the day. It was beautiful, personal, funny, moving and extremely emotional. The tears were flowing and the love was bursting from the blossoms in the trees in wee petals of the sweetest pink that fluttered and strayed before settling on the scene. Before Daniel and Emma spoke their vows I took to the stage and recited a wee poem I had written especially for them as part of the blessing. A personal tribute, it went like this...(ach, I know it's not very good but it's from the heart!)

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

wife and husband bind body and soul in a wind-stilled hush

The boughs of their summer-love

Gently teasing hearts that fall and rise

Soaring to salty white sky so worldly wise,

the palest purple clouds saluting the glorious gush

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow
birds sing, a soft song grasping the moon,
the child long since remembered peering from the brightest star
His glittering rays catching golden sun,

where husband and wife become one,

anchoring hearts and souls amid waters strong and far

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

hope soars on button holes and waistcoat
and circular bands  as fresh as wind-driven snow

We gaze as the dreams of wife and husband grow
pledge and passion scattering on scarlet berried

sycamores and soft leaf’d elms that sway and float

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

Those trees stand still, breathing the summer silence

blossoms of toasted friendship lingering in a clearing sky,
black swan clouds ruffling into the distance high

The be-all, the end-all, the everything-all where art thou
husband and wife, wife and husband, sealing their sweet-sworn vow.

The ceremony was sealed with the beautiful news that Emma is expecting their second child and in the new year they will welcome new life, a brother or sister for the never to be forgotten Tommy. It's a new beginning and they deserve all the happiness in the world. Daniel is dealing with a horrible genetic illness, and now we have discovered that his sister Siobhan has the same disease, however if love can make their world an amazing, powerful place then they're all going to do all right. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful family. Being a mother is such a privilege and one I live for. Let's raise a wee glass for all the beautiful kids out there, I hope you are healthy and happy and above all loved.