Saturday, 14 October 2017


Writing can be a solitary business and so when offered the opportunity to meet like-minded souls at
the inaugural Society of Authors Scottish conference – #ScotsWrite17 – it was a ‘yes’ from me.

Each speaker – a selection of experienced authors, agents, publishers and more –generously offered precious nuggets of useful, encouraging advice which I've shared and hope you find inspiring and helpful too. 


Joanne's modern day fairy
tale, inspired by a visit to Skye
Joanne Harris – author of an impressive canon of fourteen novels and two cookery books including Chocolat (the bestselling novel turned into an Oscar –nominated movie) opened as a keynote speaker, reminding the audience that playing with words is the closest thing to magic a writer can do. Setting the tone for a magical conference weekend.


Jane Johnson making time for everyone at
her busy book signing
Jane Johnson – historical novelist (her latest release - Court of Lions is out now), children’s author and Fiction Publishing Director for Harper Collins, encouraged everyone to follow your passions in life. Explaining 
  • That writing is largely an engineering process. Work can always be taken apart and put together again.

  • Flexibility is crucial for a writer. An editor is there to make the writer think again and to explore their work.

  • That finding an agent, someone who will fight your corner, is important. Learn as much as you can about the industry and read, read, read…

Reading encourages us to dream bigger.
  • 90% of what happens to your book is luck – Does it land on the editor’s desk at the right time? Does it fit their list? Have they just signed someone who’s written something very similar?

I also attend Jane’s fantastic breakout session where she donned her editor’s hat sharing what an
Latest historical fiction by Jane Johnson
editor looks for in a submission.
Here’s some of what I learned -

  • Look to surprise your readers
  • Trust your imagination
  • Don’t tell the reader everything that’s going on – know there are things you’re not going to tell
  • Include unexpected imagery, which doesn’t get in the way of the story. She quoted from Stuart MacBride – describing a character’s hair looking as if they’d sellotaped a cairn terrier to their head. (Who doesn’t love a cairn terrier?)
  • Characters are what makes your work tick – create light and shade in characters
  • Editors are always looking for an excuse to say no – don’t give them that excuse. Make your manuscript as polished as it can be
  • Do research and be confident in your writing – keep the writing as authentic as possible
  • If you’re boring yourself, you’re probably boring the reader – do not submit that 20 pages
  • A reader loves to be educated (to learn something). Learn your craft and write as well as you possibly can 

Things to consider when pitching – 

  • What is at the heart of your book?
  • Write your pitch as simply as possible
  • What about your book do you love best?
  • Share the main characters’ motivation


The latest action packed teen
adventure from Charlie Higson
Charlie Higsonauthor and writer for radio and television delivered the Penguin Random House keynote on the subject of Diversification. Here are only a handful of his great suggestions.

  • Make use of Twitter – find him @monstroso – writing’s a lonely occupation and Twitter can be a fantastically helpful research tool. Throw a question out on Twitter and within minutes, someone will come back with suggestions
  • Make a Spotify playlist for each novel/ screenplay you’re working on. Listening can help unlock that special voodoo place, where the writing starts to flow
  • When stuck novel writing, try writing a section as a script, which is a good way of opening up other pathways in the brain
  • Spot the good idea amongst all the other ideas you might have. And hang onto that good idea, which sometimes can become lost in the process
  • Catchphrases can be useful for characters
  • Create vivid and interesting dialogue. It doesn’t have to be real but it does need to be sparkling
    Charlie Higson and me!
    and alive

My teenage sons, both avid fans of Charlie’s Young Bond series, couldn’t quite believe I’d had the good fortune of meeting their writing hero. Here's the proof!

Dotted between the keynote speakers was a fantastic selection of breakout sessions including this one:


Crime author - Denise Mina
 Denise Mina – multi-award winning crime novelist, comic book writer, playwright and regular contributor to TV and radio, on shared a frank and funny review of the ups and downs of
Winner of the 2017 McIlvanney Prize
for Scottish Crime book of the Year
writing for a variety of media. But whatever the form, she encouraged writers to:
  • Induce a sense of recklessness in your writing. Are you being too safe? Do you need to dig deeper?
  • Remember that just because it sells, doesn’t mean it’s good. Publishers pay for placements in WHSmith.
  • Chop up work into paragraphs and chapters to increase narrative pace
  • Give the reader work to do by leaving things out. That way the reader invests in the story.


Joanna Pennhugely successful podcaster (I’ve may have mentioned I'm a massive fan of The Creative Penn podcast on this blog before!) and indie writing guru shared an absolute ton of tips in the final keynote speech of the weekend.

My precious signed copies...
I’ve shared some of what I jotted here, but in all honesty Joanna offered so much that if what you read here whets your appetite, then I highly recommend all of the following - How toMake a Living From Your Writing, TheSuccessful Author Mindset, How toMarket A Book and more…

Here’s an extremely potted version of what she shared:

1) Are you an entrepreneur?
  • A book is a intellectual property asset
  • Made once, it can be sold over and over again – think E-book, Print book, audio

2) Focus on the Customer
  • It’s about the reader
  • What do they want?
  • Only 5% of top selling books include literary fiction
  • Which sub-categories are your competitors selling in?

3) Make the most of your intellectual property
  • Understand your contract
  • What rights have you sold? What can you still exploit?
  • Look at territory/language/format/length of time before rights revert back to the author

Joanna's key message was that if you wish to be a successful author then you need to write more books.
  • Try other genres – write both fiction and non-fiction
  • Write a branded series and get readers hooked (may be linked by character or theme)
  • Go short – write a novella (less than 40,000 words long)
  • Go long – with box sets (great value for the customer)
  • Re-invigorate your backlist by re-branding, re-titling, re-covering

Here's Joanna Penn and me with crime author and organiser
extraordinaire, Wendy H Jones
5) Attract an audience
  • Be yourself
  • Share what you are interested in

Finally Joanna shared a hand written note she keeps by her writing desk – have you made art today? A mantra I’ve been happy to steal!


In addition to the packed writing weekend, we were also treated to a gin tasting session, sponsored by Botanist gin, tried Tia Chia, enjoyed a formal dinner and ceilidh evening, caught up with old friends and made new ones along the way.

All in all, a fantastic conference for writers, conceived and generously pulled together by writers, led by Linda Strachan. Thanks to the team who so kindly gave of their time including, Wendy H. Jones, Merryn Glover, Caroline Dunford, Chris Longmuir, Philip Paris, with apologies to those I've missed.
Cheers! Happy Writing x

Sadly, I can’t cover everything that went on but to see more photographs or discover more fantastic quotes head to Twitter and the #ScotsWrite17 hashtag.

Happy writing!



  1. I love the quote "writing is largely an engineering process. Work can always be taken apart and put together again."

    This point of view means that the first draft does not have to be perfect. Self-doubt about the quality of the story can often be the cause for a manuscript being abandoned by its creator. I think this point of view takes the pressure off.

    1. Something I definitely need to remember, Victoria, when my perfectionist tendencies take hold!

  2. Now I really wish I had been there! Thanks for sharing all these tips.

    1. It was such an inspiring event, Gill and there was definitely an appetite at conference for another one but the organising committee have already agreed it won't be next year ( too time consuming to organise). Hopefully there might be a repeat in 2019.

  3. Wow, that was a HUGE blog post and full of great links and tips. Thanks, Rae! xxx

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by, Jane. It was a fabulous conference. Now all I need to do is put all those tips into practice! : )

  4. Oh my, what a wonderful experience you had! some great tips along the way.

    1. I was scribbling frantically the whole weekend, Linda as I knew I'd only remember a tiny fraction of what was shared if I didn't take copious notes. Notes I'll definitely refer to again and again!