Saturday, 25 February 2017


Recently, I experienced the great delight and terror of being invited to read at my first literary salon, as part of Aberdeen’s Inspiration Point weekend.

But what is a literary salon?

I imagined worthy men of the enlightenment gathering in coffeehouses or smoky backrooms, their faces earnest, talking politics and economics; or refined French ladies lounging on elaborate chaise longue dissecting the literature of the day.

That couldn’t be right? I wouldn’t be expected to lounge on a longue, would I?

I consulted the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, which informed me that:

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

Hmmm… The Inspiration Point Literary Salon was to be held at the Lemon Tree, a wonderful small
theatre space in the heart of Aberdeen. I checked the blurb…

Your chance to hear some of the best new creative writing being produced in Aberdeen and the wider Northeast, Scotland.

That description still made me nervous but also thrilled to be invited, along with friends from the Aberdeen Writers’ Room Collective, Rachelle Atalla, John Bolland, Avril Erskine, Gavin Gilmour, Laura Lam, MeganPrimrose and Emily Utter, along with poetry therapy practitioner, Elaine Reid and playwright Morna Young.

Organized by the wonderful writer and creative powerhouse that is Shane Strachan, of Creative Learning Aberdeen, the evening was a fantastic opportunity for all involved.

So what have I learned from taking part?

  • Ask a writing friend to check your selected piece for appropriateness
Unless you’re a natural and accustomed to treading the boards, reading dialogue aloud, perhaps taking on the voice of at least a couple of characters, can prove daunting. For a first time reader descriptive prose might be safer ground.

  • Be Prepared
Sounds obvious, but the Inspiration Point event fell at the end of half term. I’d been away from home all week, enjoying time with family. I arrived at The Lemon Tree with only minutes to spare, with no printed copy of my reading to hand. It fell to my husband to make the mad dash home (20 minutes drive away) to print off a copy and return before I was due on stage to kick-start the second half. Note to self – be prepared!

  •  Become acquainted with the running order

A literary salon involves a collection of writers and so it’s good to know who will be reading before
Shane Strachan: organiser and writer
you (a few kind words helps keep the feel good factor flowing) and also necessary to know who will come after you, especially important if you are expected to introduce them with perhaps a short background summary.

  •        Lights

One of the biggest surprises on stage was that due to the spotlights focused on the reader, it was almost impossible to see the audience. No friendly faces smiling encouragement. It was akin to reading into a black hole. However, after several deep breaths, a couple of paragraphs in, as a reader you become immersed in the world of your writing. Keep going… don’t stop….

  •         Know thy route to and from the stage

Packed audience at the Lemon Tree Theatre
The Lemon Tree Theatre was the perfect venue, owning a wide stage, bar at the back, with circular candle-lit tables dotted around the main floor. However, whilst I made my way on stage, I also became acquainted with the many trip hazards  -coat sleeves, handbags, satchels etc. Once my piece was finished and the talented Rachelle Atalla was well into reading the opening of her current novel, the last thing I wanted to do was create an unwanted diversion by tripping and sprawling over one of the beautiful candle-lit tables. So instead, I discreetly choose to sit at the back until there was a suitable opening, which allowed me to make a less dramatic entrance.

Would I read at a literary salon again?

Writing can be a solitary business but during Saturday evening at The Lemon Tree surrounded by friends old and new, many established writers - some starting out, I understood why the concept of the literary salon has continued since the time of the enlightenment and ladies lounging on their chaise longue. It’s because it’s fun and frightening and wonderful all at the same time. Would I accept if asked to read again? It’s a big YES from me.

And if I weren’t reading, I’d still highly recommend pitching up at a literary salon. The Inspiration Point evening was a free event, we heard a fantastic range of new writing and the Lemon Tree bar was open…!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

THE HOLY GRAIL OF WRITING by Victoria Cornwall

I was driving my car the other day, whilst keeping a lookout for deranged drivers and wild animals with a suicidal desire to become my next road kill victim. I am not being melodramatic here. After decades of driving on country roads, I have come to the conclusion that animals line the grass verges to wait for my car to come along. Anyway, during my journey the lyrical, haunting tune of Send in the Clowns came on the radio. A melancholy atmosphere descended as I absorbed the sad, beautiful lyrics sung by Judy Collins. I was about to start blubbering into my steering wheel, when I was saved by the DJs next choice, The Eurhythmics collaboration with Aretha Franklin, Sisters are doin' it for themselves. Suddenly the world seemed brighter and I felt empowered. I finished my journey with a big smile on my face and a slight bounce to my driving. Within a short space of time I had swung from normal, to deep sadness, to feeling extremely happy ... and it got me thinking. 

Music is the end result of someone's creativity, just as a painting, a poem, a book or a beautifully crafted statue or figurine. There is an endless list of how a person's creativity can manifest, but I suspect that all creative people strive to do the same thing ... to evoke a feeling, an emotion, a reaction from those that see it, feel it, use it or read it.  

Painter, illustrator and sculpture, Richard Artschwager, once said, "There isn't any art until some creature sees and consumes it. And has a reaction." Perhaps that is what drives us all. I know many writers will say that they would write even if no one ever saw what they had produced, however, I suspect the majority of writers have a desire to share their craft with like-minded people who will hopefully enjoy it.

A successful novel will evoke a reaction in a reader. Some novels will take a reader through the whole range of emotions. The transitions between these emotions and reactions may be sudden or deceptively subtle, gradual or a non-stop fast ride where the reader hangs on by their fingernails. Hopefully there will also be the odd moments of reflection or relaxation to make the next stage of the story all the more stimulating. A reaction a writer does not want to evoke is boredom or frustration with the plot or the characters within the story.

I believe that the holy grail of writing is to evoke the emotion that the writer intends to evoke, at the precise moment they planned it to happen, at just the right momentum a reader wants or needs. When a writer hits those markers, they have been successful in their quest. However, in my opinion, it is not the reader who has the greatest reaction in the end … it is the creator ... for they have achieved what they set out to do, and that is a euphoric, heady experience that cannot be matched.


Do you agree that evoking emotions/feelings/reactions in a reader is The Holy Grail of writing? 
Can you recall a particular book which evoked a strong reaction in you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 11 February 2017


For the last year or so I’ve been keeping a record of all the books I’ve read, and even of those I’ve started and not finished. I’ve been trying to understand what it is that makes a book a GOOD book – to me – so I’ve chosen the last three books to which I gave the full five stars, and I've tried to discover what qualities they have that set them above the hundred or so others with three or four stars (less than three stars and I don’t carry on).

Image resultThese books are quite diverse. They are:
·         ‘Falling’ by Julie Cohen, a recently published women’s contemporary fiction novel;
·         ‘The Year Of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell, an autobiography/political commentary; and
·         ‘Faking It’ by Jennifer Crusie, a classic romantic comedy.

I’ve tried to identify the things that make them such all-round successes for me, and have come up with the following. These qualities are in addition to having attractive characters that the reader is rooting for – I take that as a given!

 Immersive - as a reader you are completely in these books. It's not just the story that carries you forward but the setting and the little details about the main and secondary characters. This is a world you can believe in.
Off-beat – to a greater or lesser extent all the characters are out of the ordinary, which makes them particularly interesting, but the key thing is that they are not caricatured. It’s very easy to caricature eccentricity, but for me that doesn’t make a good read.

Accessible style – the style of writing is not literary, not trying for long words and (even worse) long sentences/paragraphs. It is easy reading. In both the Jennifer Crusie and Helen Russell books, humour is also very much to the fore, which helps.

Page-turners – all are books that make you want to read on, that you regret every time you have to put them down. They are not the heart-in-your-mouth or blood-and-guts type of page-turners, however, as those don’t appeal to me. I don’t like too much tension and I definitely don’t want tragedy. These three were the perfect balance of interest, action and resolution. And there was the added bonus, with the Russell book, that I felt I was learning something new, too!

What qualities do other people feel are essential to a ‘good’ book?

Sunday, 5 February 2017


"So," my friend, Jan - who's read just about everything I've ever had published - said, "who's this Mel who upset you so much?" "I don't know what you mean!" I said, coming over all defensive. "Hmm," she said. "It's just that whenever you write the bad sister/office bitch/friend from hell you call her 'Mel'. That's all I'm saying." And do you know what? - she's right. I do. There was a Mel in my life who was all those things Jan mentioned and I haven't been able to let her go. I know it's not healthy but at least I get a bit of (unhealthy?) revenge when I'm writing her into a short story. I've got a cousin - male - who is also very loyal and reads most of my short stories and novels. He's not averse to voicing his thoughts either. "Paul?" he said once. "Who was he in your life? His name crops up a lot." "Does it?" I said. "Yep. And he always gets the girl." Not the Paul I know because I rather stupidly let him go (okay, gave him the old heave-ho) and perhaps I ought not to have done and then I would have been Paul's girl But no one needs to know that and my cousin will have to go on guessing! After having written about 1000 names into short stories and novels it's not that easy to come up with a new one, even though I have a Baby Names book on my desk. Didiane? Photina? Boaz? Milburn? I think not. Girls' names like Daphne and Dulcie, Polly and Elsie, are making a comeback but they're not names I liked the first time around so I won't be using those. And Roger - my husband's name. I'm reluctant to use that because people always quip ' ... over and out' and that's all I see in my mind's eye when I've tried to write him in. And using his name as a verb has a whole different meaning so I won't be doing that either. There are, of course, many books with one name titles. Jane Austen's 'Emma' is perhaps the most famous of all.
The present day novelist, Bernardine Kennedy, writing as Marie Maxwell, has also used one name titles with great success - Maggie. Gracie. Ruby.
I've been thinking of doing the same - I just can't find the right name, that's all. Oh. I almost forgot. 'Sylvia'. Jan also noticed that my evil mothers-in-law/horrid stepmothers/snobby women of a certain age are always called 'Sylvia'. Hmm,I'm probably fortunate that the 'Sylvia' my character is based on is long dead! My apologies to all the lovely Mels and Sylvias in the world - it's not you, honest. So, writing this has got me wondering .... is there a name you use over and over and if so why? Or is there a name you would never use at all?