Friday, 30 March 2012

Special Offer

Fairlyden by Gwen Kirkwood

     Download for free from Amazon

1st and 2nd April 2012



Making Waves when writing a novel

Recently I have been reading through a novel which I wrote twenty years ago. I had it scanned by Lynn Anderson to make sure I was formatting the final copy as it appeared when published, prior to uploading to Amazon as an e-book. I am dismayed at the number of exclamation marks and hyphens I used then and I have deleted several. I find it difficult to judge my own work, but apart from the superfluous punctuation, I still like this story as well as many I have written since, and better than some which were limited by the publisher’s stipulation of word length.

When I wrote Fairlyden I had stumbled my way through four short romance novels for the Hale Rainbow Romance Series. Then Amstrad computers arrived, a great benefit to a none typist, and I yearned to write a longer novel. I had no publisher, no agent and no deadlines or guidelines, and I didn’t know any other writers. Remember there was no internet. I had not heard of the RNA and in any case they did not hold annual Conferences in various parts of the country as they do now. I began to write the kind of story I liked to read, set in 1850 but using the only background I knew much about – farming. It took a long time but it gave me a great deal of satisfaction, even though I had no idea whether anyone would ever read it. In retrospect I believe I could have ended it about three quarters of the way through but even then I wanted to continue the story of the family I had created.

Using the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book I selected an agency at random. The person who replied said it was a good story but needed a lot of work and they did not have time to take it on. I chose another single person agency (for her Scottish name). She did not do editing but she read it and sent it to a publisher. Lady Luck was at my side. They wanted to buy it and sent me a contract for it and the three follow on novels which were still in my head. Most publishers like to know a writer has more than one book to build on. The editor then sent me three pages of questions, comments and suggestions – one of which I have found invaluable. Apparently readers do not like to be confronted with pages of closely written text so wherever I had long passages I was advised to convert it to speech or break it up in some other way, giving more white space; this looks less daunting to the reader. I also discovered speech moves the story along faster.

Many years later I attended a talk on writing. The speaker said writers should create waves in a novel to keep the reader’s interest. Reading Fairlyden now I realise I subconsciously created a tsunami, plus a storm or two. I can scarcely believe I created such nasty characters, or some of the sad scenes, but hopefully I have enough happy scenes to compensate and uplift. I am still learning something new with every book I write.

If any of you have a Kindle and feel like reading this story please remember you can download it for free on 1st and 2nd of April 2012. I shall be interested to hear if you feel it is too stormy, or if I should have ended it earlier. You can read the blurb for it on Amazon or on my personal blog at

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Too much going on - no time to think

by Mary Smith

Over the last couple of weeks I have found my thoughts turning repeatedly to Gill’s last blog asking if we give ourselves time to think and wishing I could indeed add contemplation time to my ‘to do’ list.

I’ve certainly been doing a lot of thinking but not the kind to which she was referring. It’s been a hectic few weeks – husband in and out of hospital like a yoyo (on the road to recovery now, we think), trying to get some articles written up ahead of deadline, interviewing people – and being interviewed – and getting 21-year-old off to Nepal. The airline went bust a few days before he was due to go but the travel agent didn’t think to tell us. When we made enquiries we were told it hadn’t completely gone bust and he could still get the flight to Delhi, where he would be stranded. Managed to book him on another – much more expensive – flight and have checked he boarded the bus to London with passport, ticket, dollars, bank card, photos for visa which he has to apply for on arrival as he didn’t have time to apply before leaving because he had put his passport in the washing machine and didn’t put in for a replacement….He’s a student.

So, there has certainly been no ‘me’ time, or contemplation time. On the other hand, part of me knows I’m storing away all sorts of potentially useful material for future writing projects – conversations from hospital trolleys or how to survive motherhood, perhaps. 

Sara Bain, arts and entertainment editor for the Dumfries & Galloway Standard, has begun a series of interviews with writers. I was delighted when she asked if I’d be willing to be interviewed and she certainly made me think hard to answer her questions. 

Heard from my publisher, Indigo Dreams, my non-fiction book on Afghanistan will be coming out in July and my poetry collection, Thousands Pass Here every Day, will be published in August. So now, I have to start planning book launches and publicity and marketing – more thinking but not in a contemplative way.

I have been accepted as part of a group of artists and craft makers going on a ‘learning journey’ in April to Slovakia to visit its biosphere reserve and dark sky park. It is part of the Gallowayand Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve Project and we are expected to create a record of our journey when we return. Having seen the height of the mountains we’ll be climbing – not called the High Tatras for nothing – I think I need to launch a fitness and stamina programme before I go.

Maybe stomping up and down Dumfries & Galloway’s hills over the next few weeks will give me time to think? And, after Slovakia, surely there will be time to write?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Be prepared – Be optimistic

Only a week to go, then the clocks change and spirits will lift. Actually, it's been a funny year so far – no winter to speak of (I've only scraped frost off the car once – compared with the last two winters, this is positively tropical!), and a three-week spell in the States where we managed to find some real sunshine.

So I've no excuse at all for feeling down – and compared with a number of friends who are going through family traumas, business downturns and health problems, I really do have no excuse for feeling low. If only I hadn't chosen writing as a post-retirement career! Hitting the right place in a falling market is a real challenge. We're all being told, time and again, that book sales are dramatically down, and it does seem that publishers are fighting shy of taking on new names. However, I've got a number of friends who have been picked up recently (including our very own Linda Mitchelmore – hooray!) and I have a feeling the picture is not as clear as it might seem.

The hidden data centres round sales of e-books and the secrecy with which Amazon in particular seems to cloak sales figures. 'E-books are skewing the book ratings,' writes Jojo Moyes in The Telegraph The problem is that while hardback and paperback sales figures are collated and charted, only the author and publisher know the number of sales of e-books. Amazon now releases a chart of top sellers – but not numbers. For writers of 'women's fiction' in particular, this poses a problem. Many writers are reporting excellent e-book sales, but they are not necessarily being reflected in the bookstores.

Last year, sales of e-books apparently rose by 500 per cent, and are expected to increase by a similar amount this year, with digital sales expected to overtake print for the first time in the UK. We really are in the middle of a revolution.

I don't believe that people are reading less than they used to. In fact, I think the opposite may be true. And there's a terrific article on the Bookseller blog about the role of authors (a forgotten breed of professionals) – see

So for all my friends who are still trying to break in to the market, I would say: Keep writing. Be Prepared. Be in the right place when the revolution settles.

And be happy – Spring is here and the long days are coming!

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Over New Year I spent time in South Africa with a very good friend. I’ve known her for far longer than I like to remember – long enough to have shared a flat with her when we were at university in Cape Town many many moons ago. She now lives in a beautiful house near the Kruger National Park, where you can sit on the deck and watch warthog wander by and see the red African sun setting over the distant Drakensberg mountains (see pic). It was lovely to see my friend and her family, to spend time catching up, to enjoy the bliss of sunshine in December – but most of all it was wonderful to be away from my own busy life and have time to think.