Saturday, 27 August 2016

Wigtown - Discovering what makes a great Book Town

On a recent visit to the sleepy coastal village of Port William, south-west Scotland, imagine my delight when I discovered that Wigtown, Scotland’s famous book town, was a mere ten minutes drive away. Twelve bookstores in one pretty rural location; I couldn’t wait to explore.

But what exactly makes a book town?

Well according to the all-knowing Wikipedia ‘A book town is a town or village with a large number of used book or antiquarian bookstores. These stores, as well as literary festivals, attract book-loving tourists’. Count me in!

Further Google searches revealed that Wigtown was in excellent company. Other globally recognised book towns include, where it all began - Hay-on-Wye, Wales; Hobart Book Village, New York; Fjaerland, Norway, with countries as disparate as Spain, Australia, Italy, Belgium, Malaysia and Canada all proudly encouraging the ‘Book Town’ philosophy.   

So why did Scotland choose Wigtown?

Well during my visit to The Old Bank Bookshop I had the pleasure of meeting the proprietors, Joyce and Ian Cochrane, along with their daughter Helena, where Joyce kindly explained that after the collapse of the local economy, when the town’s main employers, the whisky distillery and creamery, were forced to close, this remote rural town was struggling to survive. Fortunately, its regeneration was secured when Wigtown won a national search, beating off stiff competition, to create Scotland’s first book town. Booksellers, including Joyce and Ian, quickly snapped up empty premises, establishing over a dozen bookshops and highly successful literary festival.

Bookshops with personality...

Whilst I was browsing the five rooms of high quality antiquarian books on sale at
The Old Bank Bookshop, Joyce was keen to share that some 250 years ago, the building was used as a customs house, before it was bought, 100 years later by the City of Glasgow bank. However, records show the directors of the City of Glasgow bank were found guilty of indulging in some creative accounting and were sentenced to lengthy periods in jail – little changes! The original safe makes for an unusual feature in this truly unique bookstore.

Crossing the wide main street, my next stop was Curly Tale Books, specialising mainly in children’s and young adult literature, where I received a warm welcome from publisher and author, Jayne Baldwin. Here’s Jayne seated outside Curly Tale Books on what is affectionately known as ‘the Beltie bench’. Painted in black and white, the bench is a tribute to the iconic Belted Galloway cattle, which dot the surrounding countryside. To find out more about Jayne's writing, you can watch her recent television appearance on Border Life here.   

Next door we find the oldest bookstore in Wigtown, aptly named  The Bookshop. Claiming to be Scotland’s largest second hand bookstore, The Bookshop has no less than nine quirky rooms to investigate. This is the kind of heaven I used to dream of as a child; row upon row of books, leading ever deeper into the depths of the bookstore.

 After an hour or two browsing, I was ready for some coffee and cake, so made a welcome stop at the trendy, newly refurbished ReadingLasses Bookshop and café. Comfy sofas, Peggy Lee’s Fever playing in the background, over 8000 books on sale in the shop and another 10000 stored in the ‘Hut’ (an old WW2 telephone exchange), there was plenty to keep the most avid bookworm happy whilst enjoying their coffee. The thing that attracted me to the
ReadingLasses café though, was that their front room is dedicated to books ‘by and about women', proudly stocking directly from Persephone Books. A publishing house specialising in reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century women writers.

My only disappointment during my visit to Wigtown was that The Open Book, which offers an unusual holiday experience, welcoming guests from all over the world to stay and run a bookshop in the middle of Scotland’s book town, was closed on the day I visited… I supposed you've guessed, I’d love to try that some day!

Making new friends...

As well as the terrific selection of books Wigtown has to offer, it was the wonderful friendly welcome I received that made such fond holiday memories. Thankfully, Wigtown’s annual book festival, running from late September to early October, provides the perfect excuse to return.

Now, which other book towns might I explore... 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

My love of stationery refuses to stay stationary - it just grows and grows!!

I’m not a lover of supermarket shopping - is anyone? But at this time of the year my local French supermarkets call to me and I find it hard to resist their siren calls! Schools here return for the new school year at the end of August and because pupils have to provide their own stationery, the aisles are stuffed full of enticing pens, files, jotters, agendas, folders and, my personal downfall, notebooks. Notebooks of every size and description. Small, large, hardback, softback, covered in plastic, bejewelled, lined, blank, etc.etc. Temptation en mass.

I do feel guilty though when I buy and stockpile these notebooks. Is there any real need to buy notebooks these days when I can make notes on my telephone or my ipad either by text or by recording? Not that I do either of those things - far too technical for me!

Beside’s it’s not as though I don’t have lots of pristine notebooks waiting to be used already. I do. But there is something so different about French notebooks. For a start they rarely have lines as we know it. Pages are either blank, or have graph like squares on the pages - which take some getting used to I can tell you. Sometimes the exercise books are a mix of both blank and graph pages. Like this:

I know lots of writers write directly on to their computers these days and I do too when writing a short story but for novels I love opening a brand new notebook, writing the title on the first page (can’t start without the title!) and starting to make notes about characters and possible plot lines, writing scenes and just generally making notes. 

I find that the simple act of putting pen to paper frees my thoughts far more than hitting the keys does for some reason. Then, as I transfer my notes etc to my computer it all somehow jells in my small brain and I find myself adding more detail as I type it all up. 

My publishers sent me a lovely little notebook last Christmas and here it is on top of a selection of notebooks I already have. It’s unused of course because it’s much too precious to write in!

I’m sure lots of you have a notebook fetish too. So tell me, where do you find your favourite notebooks?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Choosing your favourite child......

Crathes Castle

I have been fortunate enough to have been asked by our local hotel The Whitehorse to have a small exhibition evening in September.  To be fair its taken a year for me to say yes as I never feel that my photographs are good enough but now is the time to shake off that apprehension and go for it. 
If I am honest the other half has insisted that I/we do this as it is a fantastic opportunity and to be fair all I will have to do is turn up on the night. My organisational skills are practically nil so I will hand over the reins to the capable hands of the other half, hoping that my input will be minimal and limited to picking the photographs that will be on show. 
If I thought picking a selection of photographs would be easy, I was wrong it is a kin to choosing your favourite child, they all have  different qualities that make them each appealing. So how to choose.... 
I have decided to limit myself to a specific number of images which will be produced in varies prints and frames. I had though about a theme so all images would be in similar frames however life isn't like that and as I look round my home there are hardly two frames the same. So instead will pick frames that suit the photo. 
Stairs at Fittie, Aberdeen Beach
 Secondly narrowing my geographically coverage of Scotland to the North East, play to the local audience. Striking a balance between castles, beaches and countryside shots. Otherwise I would flood the evening with the photos I had taken when I was on the West Coast in July (as they are my favourites at the moment). 
Dunnottar Castle
So I have gone from making an appearance at the evening to negotiating my way through all my photographs to deciding which images best represent me and my skills. I am nervous already and still over a month to go before I have to witness first hand peoples reactions.  
Bow Fiddle, Portknockie
So wish me luck on choosing between my babies......... 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Taming the Jungle: A Motivational Tale

by Jennifer Young

Nothing like a challenge for motivation...
Sometimes you just lose motivation. No reason; it just goes. I’ve been feeling that way for a few months now, as anyone who’s asked me to do anything for them will testify. Most of the time I do it, but not until I’ve been nagged at or prompted or, in extreme cases, had my hand forced. It doesn’t matter what it is — responding to letters, tweets or emails; promoting my books; writing my books; catching up with friends; even taking the cat to the vet. (The cat, in fairness, has not chased me up about this.)

After a two-week staycation, however, I’m feeling that thing are on the up. A few days away in Cumbria and a few days out locally have made a difference to my motivational state. Look — I’m even doing my blog on the right date without having to be reminded. I wouldn’t say I’m raring to go but at least I’m thinking of making a list of all the things I really need to do. 

One thing I did do — and maybe it’s the thing that started me back on the right road — is turn to gardening. I’ve never been a natural gardener but one day I realised that I had not much else to do, that the sun was shining and that in front of me was a garden that had been badly neglected for the better part of two years and required more than a little attention. Armed with a trowel, a pair of secateurs and a roll of plastic bags, I set to.

Somewhere in a dense jungle of couch grass and orange hawkweed, I rediscovered my enthusiasm. I don’t know why or how. I don’t know if it was the fact that the seed of an idea (pun intended) that came into my head happened to fall on fertile ground. I don’t know if it’s the fact that teasing dandelion roots out of soft warm soil is, in its way, more than a little therapeutic. Or maybe it was just that I needed a holiday.

The long and the short of it is that I feel rejuvenated. I have an idea for a new story backing up behind all the other projects I have on at different stages (don’t worry — I like it that way). I have what feels like several acres of bare soil as evidence of my efforts. I’ve even pulled up the odd tree with my bare hands. Four foot saplings, perhaps, but trees nonetheless. 

I’ve still got a couple of days left of my holiday but come Monday, I expect t be back on the treadmill with a vengeance. And the first thing on my list is a full plan for that new story…

Monday, 1 August 2016

On being a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association

I’ve been a member of the RNA for many years, from the time my husband bought  me Mary Wibberley’s To Writers With Love, in which she recommended joining the Association to any aspiring writer. I joined, submitted to what is now the NWS, got second reads and an interview at M&B’s Richmond headquarters - fairly new, then - and then gave up. It was several years afterwards I met Marina Oliver when I was speaking at the International Comedy Writers conference, and she persuaded me to rejoin, telling me that they’d just started a new cyber chapter.

And look where we are now. I’m sure the RNA was one of the very first writers’ organisations which embraced “modern technology”, so we adapted to its proliferation throughout our industry better than most. In the US, of course, it spread far wider and quicker, and I remember when I was one of the few online back in the dark ages seeing the E-Publishers start up. I, along with several other people, didn’t take them seriously at the time, and, I’m ashamed to say, almost regarded those published by them as little better than vanity published. Indeed, epublished authors weren’t allowed full RNA membership.

But now, not only are digital-first books appearing in the New York Times best-seller lists, but so are self epublished books. And it is these same digital first publishing companies that have given so many opportunities to the writers of romantic and erotic fiction, arguably the genre to profit most from the revolution.

For revolution it is. It is received wisdom that the old publishing model is under threat and the power is being wrested from traditional agents and publishers. However, I don’t think, as so many worry-mongers have pronounced, that epublishing and the ebook sound the death-knell of the printed book. I think, as with nearly all forms of creative media, they will happily co-exist. There will be some jostling for position, but as long as we stay calm, and keep up with all the new developments just as we have done in the past, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. But I would hope that we are all sensible enough to make sure our work is good enough to go out there. Good agents and editors currently do that for us, so let’s not throw those estimable babies out with the bath water.  We may need to adjust our positions, but we still need eagle eyes on our manuscripts, if not the “gatekeepers” of tradition.

I, of course, I don’t write romance, but I’ve remained a member because I’ve met so many wonderful people who have become true friends. And just as a little postscript, I had an email via my website this weekend, complaining that I’d spoilt the Whole Point of the books by giving away the fact that one character had married another, when this reader was avidly working through the series following their romance. Ashamed - I changed the website.