Saturday, 29 October 2016


You should read outside your comfort zone, shouldn’t you? Hmm, has been my usual answer to that, not me! I (like lots of other people!) don’t like going outside my comfort zone.

But I accidentally did just that. I’m working on a YA novel with a half-French heroine and was lucky enough to be on a writing retreat in France. The little place I had all to myself for writing was called Mon Rêve and it really was a dream - see pic.

So far so good. One day I was wandering around a French supermarket (so strangely different to a British one) and saw they had a large selection of French teen novels. I paged through a few. I used to be able to read French, but these looked difficult. Then I found one that was a mixture of words and pictures. Much better! I bought it, partly for fun and partly for research.

The book I ended up reading - almost every word ...

And I found that it was a) much harder than I had expected. French teenagers clearly use an awful lot of slang! There were words I’d never heard of, and then words I had heard of but they were being used in a peculiar new way. Oh dear. And then, amazingly, I found that, b), by pushing myself to read it, dictionary at my side, I was getting into the head of a French teenager in a way that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I was reading outside my comfort zone! 

Of course, what I was reading was the writer’s take on French teenagers, but it gave me something that I couldn’t have got any other way – a French view on a French teenager. And after a while, it even started to be fun. For anyone who is reasonably fluent in French I’d recommend giving the book a try. It's interesting and funny and engaging. It’s Toi + moi + tous les autres, Tome 1 : #MesAmisMesAmours* by Sylvaine Jaoui. As it is not (yet?) translated into English, this is your only way of reading it.

Now I want to make myself continue with this reading outside my comfort zone, although the suggestion from my fellow writing-retreater that I give horror a try might just be a step too far … Does anyone have any less scary suggestions?

*You + me + all the others, Volume 1: #MyFriendsMyLoves

Monday, 24 October 2016


As followers of this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the short story - reading them, and writing them. But sometimes it becomes - as so many things we usually enjoy can - a bit of a chore. We wonder why we do it - especially when there can be many rejections along with the acceptances. Does anyone read the stories in Woman's Weekly, The People's Friend, My Weekly,and the various anthologies in which my stories have appeared? How do we keep on the straight and narrow of turning up for writing group weekly when the weather is nice/friends are stopping over/we plain don't feel like pitching up? Where, I often wonder, am I going to find yet another original take on something that will catch an editor's eye? So, today ..... very wet, very windy, very dark, and not conducive at all to writing fiction ... I was in the doldrums somewhat. So I nipped into town and came back to find .... a fan letter waiting for me, redirected by Woman's Weekly. And suddenly it all seems worthwhile.
So, this particular story that a lovely lady called Wendy Forrester took the time and trouble to write to me about. I've mentioned my writing group which meets weekly, apart from in June, July, and August when we meet monthly. We are a very small group - just a dozen of us. We take it in turns to be in the chair and take the meeting and choose a theme for homework should anyone need a bit of a jog to write something. The following photo is of me with Kate Furnivall and Carole Llewellyn giving a talk in Brixham Library. Carole is in Spain now but still feels very much part of the group.
So, it was Catherine Billing who chose the theme for this particular story - IN ANOTHER LIFE I don't usually write fantasy but this theme seemed to cry out for it. In this particular story my heroine is reminiscing about how wonderful her children look when they are in bed asleep. I can equate with that because I have children - now grown up - and I must have spent hours just standing gazing at them sleeping.
And, at the time of writing this particular story, I'd made a batch of chocolate brownie for my grandchildren who were going to be stopping with me.
So, all that went in. Some of what I wrote was pure fiction, a product of my often very over-active imagination, but some of it was also the product of things around me. So, the day might not have started well but just one very short but most very welcome fan letter has thrilled me beyond belief and motivated me ....hmmm, I feel the anatomy of a new short story beginning to emerge.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

CPD FOR WRITERS - #writersroomABDN

‘My dream is to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-
Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland 

Shane Strachan - creator of the Writers' Room
For eight weeks over the summer, I enjoyed the privilege of being part of the inaugural Aberdeen Writers’ Room, a creative project both produced and delivered by talented northeast writer, Shane Strachan.

But this was no ordinary writers’ group - if such a thing exists - Shane’s vision was bold and different. He dreamt of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for writers, where the Writers’ Room Project was only the start.

But what would we learn?

Having recently completed a PHD in Creative Writing, Shane attended a series of modules entitled Sustaining Life as a Creative, where he discovered himself to be the lone writer in the group.

So why weren’t other writers coming forward? Did they not consider themselves part of the creative industry? Did they even know such support exists? 

Shane suspected not. But he also knew the skills and knowledge he’d gained from the Sustaining Life as a Creative sessions would be useful for other writers. He’d identified the need for structured support for emerging writers in and around the Aberdeen area.

So, with the backing of Aberdeen City Council, in his role as Creative Project Practitioner, he
designed a series of workshops, focusing on the ancillary skills professional writers require, whilst continuing to improve their craft. Such skills as being social media savvy, financially aware, knowledgeable of potential funding opportunities, the benefits of building strong networks with other artists… the list goes on.

Lofty ambitions but what did this mean in practice?

Well, as I’m normally alone with only my laptop for company, it felt a fairly intense experience, as we met weekly on Thursdays. Not in a bar or café, ahem - as writers are want to do - but in a large, quiet, bright, airy space that is part of Rosemount Community Centre – The Writers’ Room. Freshly brewed coffee was always ready on arrival and a stock of biscuits at hand - all conducive to creativity. Then it was down to business.

Here’s a taster of the topics covered:

  • ·      Applying for funding as a writer – informative walk through of the application process by Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland
  • ·      Giving and Receiving Critical Feedback – masterclass by poet and novelist, Dr Wayne Price, Senior Lecturer at Aberdeen university
  • ·      Planning and Delivering Writing Workshops – attended by Amanda Matheson Aberdeen City Libraries
  • ·      Creative Projects and Collaboration – where we met with artists from Gray’s School of Art
  • ·      Performing your Work – training by professional actors, focusing on voice

In addition to weekly meet ups, we were also assigned a variety of useful tasks to complete, such as preparing our writers’ statements, trying out creative experiences around the city, actively looking for opportunities to use our practice.

In addition, Shane kept a strong focus on increasing our web presence - our website (mine’s still a WIP!), social media, blogging.

Were we:
·      Being professional (the do’s and don’ts  - considering the dangers of over sharing…)
·      Being consistent in both design and message across all platforms
·      Keeping abreast of which platforms best reach our intended audience (eg YA fiction writers engaging on Instagram)

What else made The Writers’ Room different?

For me, as well as the content of the workshops, I gained so much from learning alongside other practitioners, who write in a variety of forms.

Laura Lam, author of False Hearts
Laura Lamis the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club selection False Hearts (2016), as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series Pantomime (2013) and Shadowplay (2014).

Gavin Gilmour - has a background in filmmaking and works in the forms of screenwriting, playwriting and prose fiction.

Megan Primrose - has a MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and a
Artist Dalia, discussing ideas with writers
Megan Primrose & Emily Utter
postgraduate in General Journalism and enjoys writing middle school children’s fiction.

Emily Utteris a Canadian prose writer based in Scotland. She recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen, and is an Honorary Fellow of the WORD Centre for Creative Writing.

John Bolland  - is a graduate of Glasgow University's M.Litt. programme, who writes novels, short fiction and poetry.

Rachelle McKimmon - is a recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and has completed a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen.

Avril Heffernan – has a background in Literature development; having worked as a Literature Officer for the North West of England at Arts Council England. She has an MA in Creative Writing and an MLitt in Irish and Scottish Studies, preferring to write short form fiction.

Having fun at the Booked! Festival
Part of the Edinburgh Festival
Outreach Programme of Events
And me! - Novel Points of View blogger, Arts' Correspondent for TV Bomb and women's fiction novelist (in the making).

We sound a rum lot but our knowledge of writing in various genres and forms only added interest to our learning.

Next Steps… 

Now our planned Writers’ Room sessions are almost over, where do we go from here?

With one final workshop to look forward to in November, we're  busy working towards goals set in our Creative Action Plans. Whilst also preparing for a performance evening – further details coming soon… With a number of various projects in the pipeline.

Remember that dream of Kaite Welsh’s to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-wide’?

Well I love to dream BIG and hope that one day CPD will be available to all writers who require a helping hand to further their practice. So if you’re invited to join a Writers’ Room, or set up one of your own, I’d love to know…

Saturday, 8 October 2016

It's October - the spookiest month of the year!

I rather enjoy October. It’s a month that for some reason, always feels full of energy before we have to give in to the comatose effect of winter, when things wind down and we retreat inside from the rain and the cold to await the arrival of Spring. Besides, at the end of the month we have Hallowe’en.

One of the things I have discovered since living in France is that two countries can acknowledge the same key events in the year in totally different ways. Hallowe’en is a case in point.   

Here in France the 31st October is rarely called Hallowe’en, they prefer La Toussaint (All Saints) Eve when, like Hallowe’en, it is believed that witches, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are out and about and it’s best to stay indoors. Where I live in rural France, the children rarely go Trick or Treating - for them it is an Americanism, despite it’s celtic roots. In the larger towns where there are contingents of Americans and other ex-pats, fancy dress parties are organised for the 31st, and bars and restaurants do a roaring trade serving their ghoulish customers. Customers who will have no worries about hangovers and being late for work the next day. Because for the French it is the next day November 1st - La Toussaint itself - that is one of the most important days in their year.  

 Celebrated all over France it is a public holiday and a time when families get together and remember their lost ones. Cemeteries are full of people visiting and placing their large pots of Chrysanthemums on graves, before spending the day together. (Make the mistake of giving Chrysanthemums to a living French person and you will swiftly be told Non! These flowers are for the dead. Cyclamen are frowned upon for a similar reason.)

French supermarkets (and I guess UK ones too?) are currently full of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Some will be carved and have candles placed inside but here the majority will be used in the kitchen. Pumpkin soup is a favourite - very warming on a cold day. The following recipe is very easy if you fancy having a go.

Preheat the oven to 200C or gas mark 6. Halve the pumpkin ( or quarter it if you prefer). Spoon out the seeds and put them to one side. Put the pumpkin on a roasting tray, with a large onion quartered, and a couple of garlic cloves. Scatter some herbs over i.e. herb de provence, rosemary or whatever you fancy. Roast for 45 minutes - to an hour. While the pumpkin is roasting, clean the seeds, spread in a single layer on a roasting dish, drizzle with oil, pop in oven. They’ll take about 10 minutes. Once the pumpkin is cooked, scoop out the flash and blend with the onion and garlic. Add some stock and puree, adding stock slowly until you get the consistency of the soup you like. At this stage you can add a dash of sherry if you like. Serve in individual bowls, with the roasted seeds sprinkled on top, and maybe a swirl of cream. Bon appétit!

Happy October!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

It Will Be Alright on the Night

September has been a busy month and I am looking forward to catching my breath.

The set up
September saw my first photography exhibition being held, myself and Audrey riding a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.
In all honesty Audrey did the all the hard work, planning and even heavy lifting at times, if it hadn't been for her drive this would have never taken place or been the success it was.

Audrey is part of a Small Businesses Networking Group and she gave a preview and talk to the group, the feedback was positive and some useful suggestions were given going forward.
Networking Group
The positive feedback boosted my confidence going into the evening as I was beyond nervous about speaking in public.

As this was our first exhibition we had no idea what to expect also unsure what people were expecting of us.
As the doors opened and the first people came in, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that people had turned up, as that was my biggest fear that no-one appear.

My short intro
As the room began to fill I could feel my heart beating as I knew it would be time for me to stand up and introduce myself.  I had planned to simply introduce the event, thank people and a brief history on how I started, 5 minutes tops......nearly 30 minutes later all I could see from the corner of my was Audrey making wind up motions.
Full room
 There was wide range of attendees, fellow photographers, friends, FB followers. It was lovely to be able to meet face to face with people that I had only communicated with via messenger or email. The evening flew by in a flash and my fears were unfounded. I was actually overwhelmed by the turn out and the positive vibes that were  in the room.

On a personal level it was amazing to see my photos framed and hung as the screen doesn't always do them justice.

So now it's time to catch a breath, reflect on how it went and what's next ?