Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 8 July 2017

It's that time of year again

The summer weather has finally arrived in fits and starts this year on the East coast although as I write this there have been some heavy showers of rain today. But the weather can't dampen my excitement  as I have only a week left to work before my holidays. 

The beautiful North West coast of Scotland where the days gone on forever (when the sun is shining). 

Split Rock at Sunset 
Although I have only been visiting the area for 4 years or so it is an area that captures your heart and draws you back.
Audrey doesn't like to admit how long she has been visiting the area but her girls have been going up there since they were babies. They adore their summer holidays of freedom and fun with friends old and new.

Stoer Beach
This beautiful area is currently on the North Coast 500, Scotland's answer to Route 66. People will complete the route in 3 days but I feel they are missing out on the hidden treasures, only catching the highlights of the scenery. Regardless of the increase in tourists which is only a positive, you still feel that you could be the only person in the world. 
Looking over Fishermans Bay to Split Rock
 
Two of these photos have been borrowed from Audrey's phone because on occasion I have been known to focus to much on the perfect lighting , composition of a photo and sometimes it can be liberating to just point and shoot. 
So although I will be chasing the light and no doubt setting my alarm for a ridiculous hour, I plan to also be more present in the holiday and take photos that capture the moment as what is a photo if not a memory frozen in time.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Meeting Christopher Robin in Dartmouth

I'm afraid I'm cheating a little bit this week. The last couple of weeks have been manic and today when I intended to write this week's blog, we had a 3 hour power cut! So, I recently did a weekend blitz blog tour for the paperback publication of my book The Little Kiosk By The Sea which is set in Dartmouth, South Devon. For one of the blogs I was asked to write for, https://everywhere-and-nowhere.com I talked about inspiration.  For those that missed it on the blog tour I thought I'd post it here.

Dartmouth is an inspirational place - it inspires me anyway, even though I rarely get to visit these days. Writers, artists, actors, film makers have all come to Dartmouth for one reason or another. 

Down the years there have been many famous people born or associated with the town. My favourite ‘celebrity’ (how he’d hate me using that word) was my boss who became a friend, Christopher Robin.

When we first moved to Dartmouth I was thrilled to get a job in The Harbour Bookshop owned and run by Christopher and his wife Lesley. For a bookworm and aspiring writer it was the perfect job for me.

For many years The Harbour Bookshop was at the hub of all things Dartmouth and Christopher himself was a major tourist draw. Something which he loathed, being essentially a very private and shy man. Many is the time I saw him making for the back stairs and escaping from the shop when the clamouring of tourists for his attention became too much. He never minded signing tattered copies of the ‘Pooh’ books clutched by wide eyed children as their grandmothers/mothers hovered anxiously in the background, but he was never entirely happy having to make small talk with strangers. But however much he hated being in the limelight he was always unfailing polite to those demanding his attention and autograph. 








The above is the frontispiece of one of his acclaimed autobiography volumes - he wrote three in all after he gave up running the bookshop. He kindly signed and gave me all three. Sadly one of the three, The Enchanted Places was lent to a friend and never returned.

Christopher and Lesley ran the bookshop for 30 years and during the Sixties and Seventies were heavily involved with the School Libraries Association, helping to instil a love of books in all children. The great sadness of Christopher’s life was that his beloved daughter Clare suffered from cerebral palsy and he was never able to give her the childhood he wanted. A keen environmentalist he loved the countryside and was never happier than when at home in the countryside outside Dartmouth.

I learnt a lot about books, the world of publishing and about life in general whilst working for Christopher all those years ago. One of the disappointments of my life is that he’d died before my first novel was published and his iconic Harbour Bookshop had closed its doors, thus deny me the opportunity of seeing any of my novels on the shelves.  

                                                               * * * * * * * * * *





Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Luxury of Language

View from (well, near) the corpse road at Mardale
I have a new addiction, one I recommend for any writer. It’s Robert Macfarlane’s Twitter feed.

You may not have heard of Robert Macfarlane, and I’m not quite sure how to describe him — and when you’ve finished this blog, you’ll understand how important choosing the right words is. Put most simply, he’s a writer and an academic whose subject is related to the landscape. (I’m sure there’s a word for that, and one far more specific than the obvious ‘geography’). I’m halfway through his book The Old Ways and am enjoying it, though i have to confess I’ve ground to a halt. There’s only so much word-richness a girl can digest at once.

On holiday in the Lakes recently, I popped into Wordsworth’s birthplace, where the National Trust had an excellent exhibition curated by Dr Macfarlane. It was on the theme of what he (I presume) calls ‘word-hoarding’ — gathering descriptive words for the landscape and for the weather and so on. Each word was accompanied by some sumptuous photos. It’s right up my street — words and the landscape, two things I love.

A 'moon road'
I’d have loved to have a book about the exhibition, but there wasn’t one, so I headed for Twitter. And here we go. Each day Dr Macfarlane posts a word or phrase and a picture to go with it. 

Some of the words I know and use — fluting, for example, or corpse road or Helm wind. Others I know but don’t use — the simmer dim (for the midsummer dusk/dawn in the Northern Isles) or siege for the place from which a heron launches itself on unsuspecting fish. Others are completely new to me — summer geese, which he describes as “steam that shimmers up from the land when hot sun follows brief rain”, or today’s offering, stubble-stag — a folk name for a hare.

Best of all, his many followers join in, with their own experiences, their local or remembered dialect words, their photographs. Long threads of word-magic spring onto my computer screen, punctuated by pictures of woods, or summer evenings, of silver lakes and cloud-shadowed mountains. 

Twitter can be a grim place, pitted with elephant traps for the unwary, but the daily threads I find here are as wholesome as home-made apple pie. Go and follow @RobGMacfarlane. I promise you won’t regret it. 

Jennifer Young

Saturday, 17 June 2017

WANT TO PITCH TO A PUBLISHING PANEL?

As a debut novelist, I’ve quickly learned that one of the key skills required, as well as writing a darned good read, is the ability to pitch a novel, both in writing and, perhaps more dauntingly, in person.

I’ve read self-help books, blog posts, writing magazine articles, all designed to teach writers how best to develop a pitch. But although there’s loads of help out there, it still feels tricky to do!

THE OPPORTUNITY



So imagine my apprehension when my writing friends from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio, suggested that I pitch to a panel of publishers and agents at XPO North.

I already had experience of pitching work on a one-to-one basis (at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference – but that’s another blog post!), which was, to say the least, butterfly inducing. But would I have the confidence required to pitch to a panel of industry experts?

I’d never know, it I didn’t try. So I followed the guidelines, forwarding a synopsis and first five chapters of my debut novel, Food Bank Baby, and anxiously waited for a reply.

Emily Utter (front left) and me (front right) with our
Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends on the bus to Inverness
Within days I’d been invited to pitch at XPO North!

 XPO NORTH


XPO North, held on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th June this year, is billed as Scotland’s leading creative industries festival; a two-day event in the picturesque highland city of Inverness, in northern Scotland, on the banks of the River Ness, where it’s fun to keep a look out for the famous Loch Ness Monster.

Held at the Eden Court Theatre and Arts' centre, entry to the event is free – always attractive to Scots!

As well as the opportunity to pitch to publishers and agents, XPO North also offered such varied workshops as:
The BBC Writers Room: Starting Your Television Writing Career 
The Birth of a Book: Dream, Plan, Do - How To Crowdfund Your Novel with Patricia van den Akker 
Discover How To Make The Most of Instagram... and more…

But my attention at XPO North was firmly focused on the literary pitching sessions.


THE PANEL


Chaired by world-renowned literary agent Jenny Brownof Jenny Brown Associates - one of the leading literary agencies in the UK - the panel was extremely supportive and encouraging of all the writers pitching. Jenny explained that after receiving a whooping 120 submissions, the shortlist was then narrowed to 18, in the panel’s hunt for best new fiction and non-fiction.

The highly experienced publishing panel members included:

Francine Toon - literary fiction editor at Sceptre Books, also representing Hodder & Stoughton

Vikki Reilly – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Birlinn Books, also representing Polygon Books.

Andrea Johnstone – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Canongate Books

Moira Forsyth  - author of The Treacle Well and editorial Director of Sandstone Press


THE SESSIONS


Pitching was broken up into three sessions – non-fiction, literary fiction and commercial fiction (including crime).

I write commercial women’s fiction but attended all three pitching sessions, which were both hugely interesting (remember I LOVE books!) but also extremely helpful, in terms of learning from the suggestions offered and advice given by panel members.

FEEDBACK


Not only was I thrilled to have bagged a much-sought after place on the pitching short-list, but was
Moral support from Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends
equally delighted that my good friends Rachelle Atalla and Emily Utter from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio each received highly encouraging praise for their wonderful literary fiction writing.

Rachelle’s debut novel, Shedding Skin, offers ‘an unsettling glimpse into a father-daughter bond as they embark on a curious trip across the Southern Hemisphere’.

Whilst, Emily’s debut, Wedgewood, explores the question ‘is the biggest lie a family can tell itself is that it is perfect?’

And so it came to my turn.

Me - mid pitch!
Although nervous, I was also buoyed by the excellent quality of pitches delivered by Emily and Rachelle, and felt determined not to let them down.

‘Two hungry little girls. One violent father.
How far would you go to save a stranger’s family from danger?’

And so began my pitch for Food Bank Baby
I gave it my best shot and was overjoyed with the feedback received from both the publishers and Jenny Brown.

Will my pitch to lead to anything further? – Only time will tell.

Was I glad I quashed my fears and accepted the opportunity to pitch? – you bet!

YOUR PITCHING STORIES


Pitching at XPO North was a fantastic experience and one I’d strongly recommend, particularly for debut writers. So, if you’ve yet to pitch to a panel and would like feedback on your work, then why not enter next year?

And if you already have experience of pitching to a panel, or simply have a fab pitching tale to share, then I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

Rae

P.S. - and I promise to let you know if my pitching to a panel story has a happy ending!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

WELLIES AND SHAUN THE SHEEP by Victoria Cornwall


This photo is not what it seems. Yes, it is Shaun the Sheep, but what may not be so clear is that it is made of vegetables. The bricks of his house are potatoes, his wool is cauliflower and the path to his front door is made from rows of onions. To give an idea of the scale, Shaun is the same height as a man. The display was at the entrance of the Royal Cornwall Show's flower tent and provided a bright and joyful way to greet visitors as they came in out of the rain. 


The display gathered a lot of attention, which was just as good at the back as it was in the front.

As a writer, it is easy to get stuck in the creative bubble of fiction, so I was glad to slip away from my edits, put on my welllies and make my annual pilgrimage to the Royal Cornwall Show this week. I have attended the show since the day I could walk (minus the odd year here and there). Although the format rarely changes, there is always something new and interesting to see and experience. This was their 223rd year and if you have never experienced an agricultural show before then I recommend you give it a try as they are a hive of creative talent which is wide ranging, entertaining and, at times, pretty amazing.

The Royal Cornwall Show is the largest annual event in Cornwall, but it originated from humble beginnings. The first event, staged in September 1793 (yes, the Poldark era), consisted of a ploughing match near the Red Lion Inn in Truro. The following year prizes for livestock were added to the awards on offer.

Over the years the show has grown. Local radio and television stations broadcast live from the event every year, while musical entertainment, dancing and the sounds of a thriving fair fill the air. Members of the royal family are regular attenders and can usually be found sampling the local produce in the Food and Farming Pavilion. From show jumping and dog and falcon displays, to parachute jumps and army displays, there is something for everyone. At its heart is the creative talents of the human race, so I took my camera along with me to take some photos, because despite the difficult times we live in, there is still beauty and wondrous things in this world to find pleasure in.


There was a vast array of flower displays and competitions.


Local artists demonstrated their skills and displayed their products. Wood carving and whittling changed natural wood into beautiful designs.


Local traders displayed their handmade crafts.


Individuals and groups worked hard to create eye-catching displays and decorations.


Besides the competitions, demonstrations and trade stalls, there were also a lot of fun displays, music and dancing. 

There are similar events all over the country, so if you have never been to one, why not give it a try? Here are just a few events:-


So until next year, thank you organisers, volunteers, traders and  everyone else who took part in the Royal Cornwall Show this year. I had a great time - despite the rain.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL by Gill Stewart



Some people write a book, submit it, and get published. That is very, very rare! Other people write a book, submit it a few times, get rejected – and give up. The real writers (in my opinion!) are the ones who are in it for the long haul.

They are the ones who write, submit, write, submit, get a small publishing contract, write, submit, indie-publish … and keep going because they have enough reinforcement from critique partners, agents, readers, etc, to believe it’s worth carrying on. And that is really all you can do as a writer – carry on. You are as good as your latest book, so you need to keep writing and make sure your work is as good as it can be.

A colleague recently said: what do you do when your book is out on submission and has been rejected three times? Another colleague replied: go and write the sequel so that when it is accepted you have more to offer. Note the when, not if! I know it takes guts to do that. Sometimes our self-belief is a little low and we wonder if it’s worthwhile. My advice is to plough on through those self-doubts and keep going. If you are a true writer you need to be in this for the long haul. There will be small triumphs, major set-backs, larger triumphs, and then more setbacks. It’s no use pretending that writing is an easy business. It’s not. Writing a good book is hard. Getting it published is harder still. And getting lots of sales is the most difficult of all. But the only failure is when you give up.

My own publishing history stretches back to 2009, although I have been writing for far longer than that. It’s hard to believe I’ve now been published for 8 years; I still feel like a newbie. My first success was to have a romantic novella, Rachel’s Coming Home, accepted by D C Thomson. How exciting that was! Since then I have had 3 further novellas published, and they have all gone on to be republished in Large Print and then e-published. In 2015, I had 2 full-length women’s contemporary fiction novels published by the lovely Accent Press. And I have self-published 3 Young Adult novels, the complete George-and-Finn trilogy having come out in 2017.

And along the way there have still been times of thinking, am I a real writer? We all have our doubts, but there are also the occasional lovely things that happen to give that little bit of reassurance and send us back to the keyboard reinvigorated. My latest bit of good news was that a German publisher has taken my novel Sunshine Through The Rain and it will be coming out in German later this year!
Sunshine Through The Rain - the British cover
Writing isn’t easy, but I love it. I would encourage anyone else who loves writing – or creating in any sphere – to gird their loins and keep going. If you don’t write the book, it won’t exist. If you don’t send it out on submission, it won’t get accepted. The only way to get your books out there is to write the damn books. I know it sounds obvious but sometimes it needs saying!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Small but perfectly formed ...... Linda Mitchelmore

No, that's not me small but perfectly formed but the writing group I belong to, Brixham Writers. There are just a dozen of us and as the room we use at Brixham Library is very small it suits us perfectly. We meet once a week from September until the end of May and then in June, July, and August we meet in whoever wants to host the meeting in their home. Cake is obligatory. We have 'homework' set every week but can bring 'work-in-progress' to read out if we prefer. Not all of us attend every meeting. So .... the twelve members. We are all published in some way - short stories, journalism, novels, letters-to-editors (often the hardest thing to get published!), poetry, radio plays, memoirs. The group has been going for thirty years or so and Anne Goring is a founder member. Anne is the lynch-pin who holds us all together but we diplomatically take it in turns to be in the chair each week. Anne has had many historical novels published, radio plays, and she also writes short stories. Anne's books are borrowed from libraries. Here's one of them.
Our newest member is Margaret Mason, who has two novels on the go under her pen-name, Rosina Farley. Margaret is a published poet and brings a dash of academia to the meetings. John Rossiter is also a long-time member. John is unusual in that he has been in all the armed forces - army, navy, and airforce. His memoirs are often very amusing and very non-PC these days but in context of the times they are just right. John also treads the boards and has an Equity card and has appeared as an extra in films. Hannelore Mackenzie is German and is the absolute 'homework' star as she always does it. Hannelore's sister-in-law, Brenda Mackenxie, has written many travel articles for many different publications. Brenda also had her first novel published round about the same time she called cards with an 8 and 0 on them. How good is that!
Now then, you could be forgiven for thinking we are all of a certain age. But we're not. We have Ian Carr who is a mere boy in his early forties and whose first novel, Sons of Natal, was published last year. Ian has a second novel almost finished. Ian is on the town council so he attends meetings when he can.
But it is Catherine Billing who is the baby of our group. Catherine is in her early twenties and a very loyal, almost every meeting, attendee. Catherine has seen her work published in Writing Magazine. Her first book, Into Eden, written under her pen-name of Cate Frances, is a memoir about her travels in the Grand Canyon. Champagne is on ice as Catherine's book is due out very soon, and being published by Breakwater Press. Art students at our local college have done the cover art work for this book.
Sandra Woolfenden is a name readers of Take-A-Break, My Weekly, and various other women's magazines might recognize as she's had hundreds of short stories published, many of them back in the day when magazines like True Romances were very popular. Michelle Heatley is our techie expert. We all need one. Well, I need one! Michelle's wonderful book, Fish Soup, was well received and she has another couple - if not three - novels on the go. As I write, Michelle is putting an anthology of the groups' short stories together. The cover is being worked on (by Catherine's college friends again).
And now our very high-profile and best-selling member, Kate Furnivall. It's a truism that if you want something done ask a busy person. Kate is never too busy to help group members with advice, or contacts, or to cast her eye over something a member has written and would like an opinion on, even though she often has the tightest of deadlines. Kate's books have been translated into umpteen languages, and we love to hear about her lunches in London with agents and editors and publishers and all the swish parties at writing at that high end of the market involves. Something to which to aspire indeed. Kate has also had contemporary novels published under her married name of Kate Sharam. Kate's latest historical novel is The Liberation.
Carole Llewellyn - even though she now lives in Spain and is sorely missed for her vivacity, her immaculate and glamorous dress-sense, and her musical Welsh voice - pops in from time to time when she is back in Blighty. Carole is a short story writer and has also had historical romances published. Oh to be sitting by a pool in the sunshine as Carole does to do my writing.
And then there's me ...... enough about me! I can't imagine life without my Brixham Writer pals now .... they crack the whip to keep my pen on the paper!