• Batten down the hatches

    Back from Uni today determined to rewrite the synopsis, restart the novel with a different antagonist and get the various characters sorted out. I really need to spring clean my workspace again and make sure the area I write in is conducive to pumping out the words. At the minute I have various folders, rolls of maps and bits of paper all over the desk so I just can't get at the details as I need them. This really is not helping and to take things seriously I need to make changes. I'm hoping that the wind, which is scything through the trees at around fifty miles an hour right now, will help me blow all the crap away, so time to batten down the hatches both literally and figuratively.
    If I start the whole lot from scratch again it might also be the perfect opportunity to start using Scrivener. Have been fiddling about with it and not really taking it seriously but I think the change from a straight word processing package to a programme designed to help writers keep on top of their info might help. Can but try. I'm not brill with new technology but can see the advantages of this packages. Scrivener for Dummies here I come.

  • Knackered

    A really frantic few days. On Tuesday the Booktown Writers AGM, then typing up all the notes, then worked at the drop in on Wednesday morning and off to Edinburgh PM. Today a really mind boggling session on Authorship from Sam first thing, then sorted out all the material for the soft furnishing for our new bedroom. Drove home and now have to get everything ready for a three day workshop. I've got tons of reading to catch up on so I guess I'll just have to take it with me. Retirement is so busy I have no idea how I found time to work. I need to print out my synopsis, my writing CV, pack, charge the Galaxy so I can do my homework then pick up the rest of the women who are going to the workshop.

    Been asked to do a session on why I'm pro-independence for the ESOL course next week, which got me reflecting on one or two things. It's not just the self determination or financial arguments which are of themselves convincing, there's a whole cultural point that people seem to miss. An example is the so called 'British bulldog' in the latest James Bond movie Skyfall. Bulldogs as a symbol aren't British, they have nothing to do with Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, they are English. It's this creeping English as British which is so insidious and which is wiping out the culture of the other three counties in the UK. This might seem a silly example, why the hell should I care about a dog I hear you say, but it's the very tip of a much more dangerous iceberg. Scotland has a long history of social democracy which is missing from England, who have a much more class based culture; Scotland has a proud history of free education which Westminster and indeed the so called Scottish Labour party would wipe out; our belief in individual freedom and justice is more developed. If we start to accept the English bulldog as part of our national identity perhaps we'll accept the class ridden, capitalist, every one for themselves position as well. Scary.

  • Change of Direction

    Not written in here for a while as I've been so busy writing which is good for my writing but bad for my blog. I originally started this to help me write every day but now it seems I'm doing that elsewhere so time to review what I'm doing with the blog. Thought I'd make this much more generic, a place to reflect on where I'm at and where I want to be. So where I am is stuck and where I want to be is unstuck! My novel Long View has a plot structure which is thought through and thorough, I have a main character, Andy, whom I feel I know and can work with, I have a location, Galloway Forest Park, I have a copper, Tulloch, also developing nicely but my protagonist, Brodsky, ah my protagonist is still all very difficult. Talking him through with the folks at the writing group today I realised the problem is he's Ukrainian and I just don't know enough about that culture to be able to write it. Do I therefore a) go away and do a load more research talking it through with some Ukrainians or b) change it to a Cokney/Brummie/Mancunian/Weegie protagonist all of which I feel more comfy with. If I decide a) where the devil do I find a Ukrainian in South West Scotland or the time to travel away to meet Ukrainians. Is this tax deductible if I sell the novel as legitimate expenses? If I decide b) am I chickening out. Who'd have thought making this decision could be so difficult? Answers on a postcard please...

  • Done and Dusted

    After a complete confidence melt down, almost resigning from the course and Andy and David Bishop both telling me, in the nicest possible way, to get my act together I can now announce that the synopsis is finally finished. Just the 3,000 word essay on J.G.Ballard and Barthes to do now, which should be a piece of cake after this horror. I have to admit though that, although there there have been head banging and hair ripping I'm actually quite pleased with it. Yes, I know it is only a synopsis and the book is not yet finished but I feel as though a major milestone has been passed. This is the first time I've plotted a novel completely from start to finish, I know more or less, where I'll be going as I sit sweating over a hot key board. It is a revelation, a liberation. I feel I know my characters really well, I can see scenes in my mind's eye in glorious technicolour, so why, I ask myself, am I up doing the blog at 2.30 a.m. again? I now have the opposite problem, from not knowing what I was doing or where I was going I can't stop thinking about it. It's keeping me awake.

    That's why I'm sitting typing this and supping a soothing mug of hot chocolate, I wondered if writing something else would take my mind off Andy McQuillan and Lasota Brodsky locked in mortal combat in the forest. Doesn't seem to have work though as here I am writing about them again. Oh well, best get used to doing without sleep till the damn book is finished.

  • Sleeping Tablet

    Today I am mainly tired. Why? Well I'm about half way through the 2,500 word synopsis I have to write for my novel Long View and things are getting sticky. I've never done a full synopsis before (perhaps that's why my previous two novels have never been published?) and having to think the whole thing through before starting is difficult. It was obviously preying on my mind as I couldn't sleep last night. Finally, at 3.00 a.m., I realised that I'd started with totally the wrong character. Leapt out of bed, well crawled to be more precise and came downstairs to sort it out before it slipped away from me. Two and a half hours and over a thousand words later crept back into my cosy bed and fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. If I'd taken my wee tablet up to bed with me I could have quietly got on with things tucked up in the warm beside a gently snoozing Andy. Mind you there was one major benefit of coming down to the office. I discovered a box of Mayan Truffle chocolates in the fridge which needed eating up in case they went off.
    Writing the synopsis has made me realise how badly plotted my other efforts have been. At first I was sceptical and worried that plotting everything out might take the pleasure out of writing but rather the opposite has occurred. I find it frees me up to get on with the characterisation and action so much more when I have a street map in my back pocket. It's all very well blurting and then polishing a short story, that's perfectly feasible, but a novel I now realise is too big an undertaking for such a disorganised approach. My new bedroom, which is currently in the design stage now we have the enormous dormer window in place, had better have a drawer just beside the bed I can fit the tablet in, otherwise I think I'd better get a sleeping bag for the office.

  • New Year Resolutions

    Spent New Year's day in bed with a stinky cold but it gave me plenty of time to reflect on the past year. There have been massive changes, both on the personal and the writing front, and last years resolution, to take my writing seriously and write every day has certainly paid off. I've had several things published, started the Master in CW at Napier and won a writing competition. I've also made loads of new friends through my writing, which was an added bonus I didn't expect. On the down side the garden is a shambles, my hips have grown considerably wider and as a result my health has suffered. So what's this year's resolution going to be? Well I think the main problem is trying to do too much with too little time and a long chat with Andy and my good friend Jane on Hogmanay suggests I need to do less in order to achieve the things I really want, I need to give something up. Now I am not about to stop writing or the working on the MA, that would be foolish, nor can I give up the garden, walking the dogs or dog agility as I love doing them so looks like one or even two of the three jobs will have to go. So my resolutions this year are to take better care of my health and to do less to achieve more, sounds weird but there you go.

    I got a great pressie for Yule from Andy, a weekend on a crime writers workshop in February. Even better is my mate Jacs will be there so someone to have a bit of a laugh with and we are rather good at that both being wee weegies. The other good news of course is the workshops that Booktown Writers are running and I need to make sure these are off the starters block and organised asap as the first one is due in February. What was that about me doing less to do more? Right, better go and knock out the next two assignments, sort out that short story, feed Andy, read that new novel Gillian gave me ...

  • Plodding Onwards

    A strange morning really. Leapt out of the bath when Scott arrived to cut the hedges and rushed downstairs to sort him out. Then, during a rather fractured morning, I managed to put together the casserole for dinner tonight; made a gingerbread loaf; fed Scott and Andy lunch; write and send off the article and pictures for the 'Evening with Janice Galloway' event to the Stranraer Free Press; wrote an adult fairy story called Cinderfella for a competition; got Andy to update my website and am now just thinking it must be time for a wee break before I push onwards with the paper work clear up. My desk looks like the wreck of the Hesperus with articles and half written pieces from the Festival of Writing scattered all over it. I've not had a minute to sort it all out since I got back. Meetings here, meetings there, working at the Castle of St John and just generally running around like a blue assed trying to keep ahead of everything. I'm working at the Newton Stewart Drop In tonight so I think I deserve and indeed can feel an hour or two of WOW coming on. Time to stop writing/cooking/clearing up and escape to Azeroth. See you when I get back.

  • An Evening with Janice Galloway

    The West Fest Evening with Janice Galloway went off without a hitch with about 60 people attending the Ryan Centre to listen to her speak. She did three readings, two from her previous anti-memoire and one from her latest, all of which went down a storm. She has the ability to use humour to cut through the crap everyday life throws at us and highlights it with grace and sensitivity. Wonderful stuff. Andy took lots of pictures and we'll get some of them plus a brief write up off to the Stranraer Free Press.

    Janice told us how she attended Glasgow University and studied music and literature. She went on to say how shocked she was that there were no Scottish writers included in the works studied as they were not, she was told, world class. She then told us how, when a centre for Scottish Literature was set up, Hugh MacDiarmid announced that women couldn't write. Thus she was excluded from one as a Scot and the other as a woman. This got me thinking about how many young Scots men and women today actually realise this and understand how the literature and history of our nation has been corrupted and obliterated by English exclusion and male dominance?

    Back to Janice Galloway though, I was really struck by her warmth and her ability to reflect on where she is from. She was most profound when talking about the gift of freedom which the death of our parents gives us. The freedom to look back and reflect on what really went on in our families and who we actually are. Now this all makes the evening sound very sober and serious but there was so much laughter and enjoyment in the audience, who really connected with what she was saying. It was a great evening and I feel honoured to have been part of it.

  • Pre Course Reading List

    Got the pre-course reading list from the Edinburgh Napier MA in Creative Writing and have started ploughing through it. Some really tasty books on the list and an assortment of great exercises to start off the modules. Loved the task about 'identify your favourite novel written from a first person point of view, identify what techniques the author is using and find a paragraph that exemplifies those techniques.' Great excuse to re-read Roberts 'New Model Army' and Hoeg's 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow.'

    What a joy to be reading wonderful novels for a course instead of the usual dusty tomes and research papers you get on psychotherapy courses. The weightiest books so far are Barry's 'Beginning Theory' which I bought along with the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory. No great worries with either of these as I've done quite a bit on critical theory with the MA Communications I did yonks ago. Structuralism, narratology and postmodernism hold little fears but ecocriticism and cognitive poetics might need a little work!

    The writer in residence this year is Ken MacLeod whose work is excellent. Was hoping for either a crime or sci-fi writer so delighted it is MacLeod. The course start date is the 27th of September so I'd best get the head down and get on with things. I'm starting to get excited already.

    Went to the National Association of Writers Groups' Festival of Writing conference last weekend. Met some very interesting folk, learned loads about the WOMAG market and walked round University Park Campus in Nottingham in some lovely sunshine. Only one workshop, on characterisation, was a bit ropey. The pain of having to sit through forty minutes of the movie 'Carnage' and listen to a bunch of folks try to guess at the characters personality 'constellation' (don't ask) is still with me. I suppose being a psychotherapist for all those years makes me a little short on patience with psychobabble. There's one point in the film where one of the characters says 'I'm going to vomit, fetch me a bucket,' and I knew exactly how she felt. Don't know if I'll go back next year but enjoyed meeting a wonderful bunch of people.

    I'm looking forward to interviewing Janice Galloway this Friday at the Ryan Centre, I love her stuff. Working on some questions which I hope will be of interest to the audience and not make me look like a complete eejit, although I know the later will be a wee bit tricky. Will tell you all about it next time.

  • Result

    All my hard work has paid of and I'm delighted to say I've got a part time place on the MA in Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University starting in September. Both Sam, the Programme Leader and David, Senior Lecturer, were great and I actually enjoyed the interview. Wonderful to talk to people who understand what it means to feel compelled to write and how things from real life (what ever that is) manage to become transformed into fictive pieces. We get a choice of modules and I've decided on genre fiction as my first preference and creative non-fiction as my second. Didn't fancy screen writing and, whilst graphic novels may be fun to read, I can't see me making it a career choice. I was also delighted to discover they treat literary fiction as just another genre. I've been rabbiting on about this for years but more recently had started to doubt myself. I've obviously been spending too much time with poor poets and people with literary pretensions for my own good.

    Given that I was recently told that "You can always tell people who do creative writing courses, they always write the same thing,' it will be interesting to see how some of my associates on Southlight deal with this news. Yes it was one of them who was crass enough to say this and who should also know a great deal better. But lets not dwell on negatives, I'm off to do the MA CW and I can't wait!

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