I wrote an article for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Words and Pictures Magazine about the evolution of SCBWI’s relationship with The Edinburgh International Book Festival, which you can read here:
Oh how I love August in Edinburgh! As soon as I walk through to Charlotte Square and breathe in the Edinburgh International Book Festival vibes it feels like I’ve come home. I was lucky enough to get through for all three weekends this year and even more privileged to be asked to chair two fantastic events in my capacity as one of the Network Organisers of the Scottish branch of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
First up was ‘Picturing Pathways To The Future’ where my co-network organiser, Justin Davies, and I chatted to SCBWI members Jill Calder and Morag Hood about how books can help children navigate their way in an often daunting world. It was lovely to be up there with three friends and brilliant to see and hear about their creative processes and where they get their inspiration from.
On the final weekend we had another panel event with David Almond and Lauren James – ‘How To Be A Writer For Life’ – and, as before, the hour flew by. David and Lauren were so generous with their advice and insights in to the writing and publishing world and we could have spoken to them all day. I also attended both their other events the following day and enjoyed being in the audience for those and hearing more about their respective writing careers.
Of course, given that it’s the perfect place for writers to meet, it would have been rude not to arrange a Scottish SCBWI Social event during the festival! 😉 We’re so lucky to have such a friendly, supportive network and it’s always great when we have a chance to catch up with each other.
There are so many fantastic events scheduled throughout the festival with a host of authors from all over the world, and some of my favourite events were ones where I was introduced to new authors that I hadn’t read before.
Of course, no stationery/book addict can leave such a place without picking up some stationery and adding more books to their TBR pile, and here are a few that I picked up over the final weekend.
So that’s it for another year… Roll on August 2020!
So it’s April tomorrow already! Where did the first part of this year go?
I’ve been busy with various writing-related activities in my Chasing Time, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and Scottish Association of Writers guises, and there’s lots to report. Including a couple of exciting developments on the writing front and meeting a literary hero of mine…
But first up SCBWI.
In January we ran a Synopsis Teach-In in Edinburgh with the help of lovely SCBWI member and 2019 recipient of a New Writers Award from Scottish Book Trust, Sheila Averbuch. It was a packed event, with lively discussion on how to conquer the dreaded synopses.
Next up on the busy Scottish SCBWI calendar was a Scribble and Scrawl Crawl at the stunning new V&A in Dundee, where we were ably assisted on the illustration front by the very talented Jill Calder. This was a brilliant way to spend a morning and we couldn’t help but be inspired by the building and its exhibits.
Then earlier this month we ran an event for our growing published and agented network members with special guest Dawn Geddes, freelance journalist, Book Correspondent for The Scots Magazine and YA author, who spoke about the business of being an author and how to find your brand, build your platform and market yourself. Phew – it’s been busy in the world of SCBWI!
In between this, Sandra, Dawn and I ran a Tick Tock – Writing Detox Chasing Time Retreat in February covering editing, structure and prioritising your writing time. We had a great group of writers join us and it was a fantastic weekend.
The last two months have been particularly exciting personally as, first of all, I found out I had been longlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award. Aargh!
Then at the annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference last weekend I picked up the T.C. Farries Trophy for the Children’s Novel Category with my current YA WIP, ‘The Eyelash Dandelion’, as well as third place with a previous novel, and second in the Under 7s category too, so that was exciting! My writing group, Angus Writers’ Circle, did amazingly overall, with us taking home 17 placed entries, including 5 trophies between us.
All topped off nicely with a little welcome home message from the kids…
And as to that literary hero I mentioned? A major highlight of the year to date was attending an early Edinburgh International Book Festival event with the one and only Angie Thomas, which was chaired perfectly by Nadine Aisha Jassat. Angie is such an inspirational speaker and it was hard not to cheer after everything she said!
So, that’s my 2019 news to date – I hope you have all had a great start to the year too.
There are lots more exciting book/writing related things coming up over the next few months as well, but April looks surprisingly quiet, so think I’ll go and have a quick lie down to recover in the meantime. 😉
There is something magical about Edinburgh in August. The historic city springs to life with the Fringe and Book Festival, with visitors from all over the world coming to soak up the celebratory atmosphere. Whether you are a fan of drama, comedy, literature, or anything in between, there is something around almost every corner, and a walk down the Royal Mile turns into a wonderful assault of the senses.
For me though, August in Edinburgh means only one thing – the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I will never forget the first time I visited four years ago. As I stepped through the foyer into a tented Charlotte Square, I felt every part of me relax. I knew this was where I belonged, and it was as if all the everyday issues and stresses just fell away.
I have been back every year since, and have seen some fabulous author events, attended random variety acts in the Spiegeltent in the evenings, and met up with some writer friends for summer picnics.
Taking my sister and daughter for the first time this year / the Chasing Time Team /
with Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group
However, this year has to top it all. This year I was c0-chairing an event for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and so was granted access to the hallowed Authors’ Yurt. Surely if heaven exists, it will look a lot like that. To breathe the same air as some of my literary heroes was an experience I will never forget.
The event itself – Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write – went better than we could have imagined and the buzz has stayed with me. It was a gift of a panel (Candy Gourlay, Elizabeth Wein and Lari Don), but the most rewarding elements were seeing how engaged the children were, and hearing some of their questions answered and their love of reading nurtured.
For the first time this year I made it through for all three weekends, beautifully rounded off by the Kelpies Prize party, where extracts from all three finalists were read out and the winner announced as Hannah Foley, seen below being presented with her prize by Lari Don. (I’m glad it was Kelpies who were picking the winner and not me, as they were all so good!)
I’m already missing it, so roll on August 2019!
Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron
Sometimes, I imagine alternate endings to the story: last-minute miracles, touches of magic. I picture how things might have gone, if I wasn’t there. If I’d left just a few minutes later. If I hadn’t been alone. It doesn’t make any difference. One way or another, the crash always comes.
Ten days after Jaya Mackenzie’s mum dies, angels start falling from the sky. Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single one has survived.
Hysteria mounting with every Being that drops, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand this obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it.
When her best friend disappears and her father’s mania spirals, things hit rock bottom and it’s at that moment something extraordinary happens: An angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive. Finally she is forced to acknowledge just how significant these celestial beings are.
Set against the backdrop of the frenzied Edinburgh festival, OUT OF THE BLUE tackles questions of grief and guilt and fear over who we really are. But it’s also about love and acceptance and finding your place in this world as angels drop out of another.
MY OWN THOUGHTS
This book has a hugely compelling hook and is beautifully written. Although at first sight it is a book about Beings falling from the sky and the world going mad in the search for angels, it is at its heart a tender book about love and grief. Jaya is a great main character and is brilliantly drawn, as are the other characters around her who are all battling their own issues at the same time. I found I could visualise each scene and I tore through it as I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. A refreshingly different read for all fans of YA.
***** – FIVE STARS
So that’s us a quarter of the way through the year already and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I started the year holding my breath waiting to find out the results of The Bath Children’s Novel Award, having had my YA novel, Sixteen Again, longlisted in this at the tail end of last year. You can see the full longlist announcement here: – https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/2017/12/05/2017-longlist-announcement/
I was lucky enough to attract some interest from agents and publishers off the back of this and a subsequent #PitMad Twitter pitch, so I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed.
In January our South East Scotland #SCBWI network hosted a fabulous ‘Time To Write’ workshop with Undiscovered Voices winner, Peta Freestone (@DrPetaFreestone) where we focussed on how to prioritise our writing, plus we have lots of other fantastic SCBWI events lined up for the rest of the year (including a re-scheduled Scrivener event to be led by Caroline Deacon @writingdilemmas, which was a casualty of The Beast From The East).
Then it was on to our February Chasing Time Writing Retreat, this time focusing on editing and making your words sing on the page. The retreat was full and we had a great bunch of people attend, which made it hugely enjoyable.
Our current retreat programme is available on our website, including specialised full day retreats for the first time. We are now also offering an extensive list of writers’ services, if this is something that may be of interest… https://chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/writing-services/
This week I’m just back from the annual Scottish Association of Writers conference held at The Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld. This was my fourth year and I’ve been lucky enough to maintain my record of being placed in the competitions they run each year, as well as being a previous winner of the T.C. Farries award in the children’s novel category. This year’s highlights included being awarded a highly commended in the YA category by novelist Claire McFall @mcfall_claire, attending workshops run by her and the wonderful Lari Don @LariDonWriter, and my writing group, Angus Writers’ Circle (@AWCAngus ) sweeping the board in the poetry competition, which has never been achieved by any club before. We’re particularly proud of our own Chasing Timer, Sandra Ireland, who brought back the poetry trophy for the second consecutive year. We also enjoyed a keynote speech by the very funny Simon Brett.
After all that, I think I need a bit of a lie down. Or, even better, a way to stop getting distracted by social media so that I can crack on with my current WIP, another YA novel that weaves themes of bullying and broken homes with elements of Norse Mythology.
Happy writing everybody!
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of a quirky yet lonely woman whose social misunderstandings and deeply ingrained routines could be changed forever—if she can bear to confront the secrets she has avoided all her life. But if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.
MY OWN THOUGHTS
I loved this book! Eleanor leaps off the page and is so perfectly drawn, with all her idiosyncrasies. At times I laughed out loud and at other times I cringed, embarrassed on her behalf even if she herself didn’t care or understand. It was so interesting reading about somebody with such control, but at the same time such little self-awareness, and I loved how Raymond managed to gradually draw her out of herself.
This book is unique, powerful, insightful and, ultimately, unputdownable. I would highly recommend it.
***** – FIVE STARS
by Ross MacKenzie
Are you brave? When mysterious Amelia Pigeon turns up at Kirby’s bedroom window in the dead of night, this is the question she asks him – immediately before they tumble into a world of ancient malevolent spirits who have torn their way into Kirby’s sleepy seaside village. Ross MacKenzie weaves a world of magic and adventure, which twists and turns magnificently and will keep thrilled young readers guessing right to the end.
MY OWN THOUGHTS
A friend had said how much she enjoyed Ross’ first book, ‘The Nowhere Emporium’, and had praised his writing, so I was looking forward to reading this, and wasn’t disappointed. I read it in two sittings while on holiday last year, and loved the characters of Amelia Pigeon and Kirby, as well as the underlying family themes (Kirby’s mother is in a coma from which we don’t know if she’ll recover, and he has become distanced from his dad) and the overall plot, with all its inherent mystery and high stakes.
Without giving too much away, I also loved how the real Amelia Pigeon turns out to be someone you would not immediately expect to be depicted as a young girl in a yellow raincoat, as well as the fact that she is not even remotely a straightforward character.
I would definitely recommend this and am now looking forward to ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ even more.
Five Stars *****
As we come close to the end of 2017, I thought I would share some of my writing-related highlights in what has been a busy and eventful year. I hope your year has been a good one too, and I love reading about what everyone is up to.
In February I was lucky enough to visit Ruth Bennett at Stripes Publishing and have a tour of the offices, finished off by a chat about my upper Middle Grade book, Sunk!, which I was editing at the time. She was lovely and encouraging, and I was in my element surrounded by all those books and the whole publishing process.
This was followed in March by the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld, which I attend with a contingent of Angus Writers’ Circle friends, and which is always a high point of my writing year. Thankfully I kept up my record of being placed in their competitions this year too.
Each month I also attended my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) YA critique group in Edinburgh, as well as a number of fab SCBWI workshops and seminars throughout the year. A major highlight however, had to be getting asked to become the joint co-ordinator for the South East Scotland network with the wonderful Sarah Broadley ( @sarahpbroadley ) and we’re really excited about all the plans we have lined up for the coming year.
August of course brings the Edinburgh International Book Festival and all the amazingness that entails, and I was lucky enough to manage to get through for quite a few different events this year.
Then September was a notable month for two fantastic reasons. The first of these was the official launch of our Chasing Time Writing Retreats with our inaugural retreat taking place over the last weekend of the month, which saw all of our plans and hopes come to fruition. It’s fantastic working with two such lovely fellow writers and hopefully in 2018 we’ll go from strength to strength. Our next retreat in February is already down to only one remaining space, which is so encouraging. Watch this space for further writers’ services and offerings coming soon…
It’s also gratifying that we’re starting to have our work recognised, especially Sandra‘s shortlisting for the Saltire Society Literary Awards First Book of the Year with #BeneathTheSkin and Dawn’s many journalistic achievements, as well as her signing up with a literary agent for her YA novel, which is currently out on submission. For myself, I am beyond thrilled that my own YA manuscript has been longlisted in The Bath Children’s Novel Award, and I have less than a week now to find out if it’s made the shortlist – eek!!
The other brilliant thing that happened in September was a Bronte field trip with three of my fellow ‘Novellers’ (we meet most months and exchange chapters and feedback for our current works in progress) to Haworth, where we were each lucky enough to write a line of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of artist Clare Twomey’s ( @CTwomeyStudio ) project to re-create the long lost manuscript.
Rounding off the year was a visit to Aberdeen for the launch of Granite Noir with a poisoned cocktail party – never trust writers!
Who knows what 2018 will bring, but I’m off to make some writing goals/resolutions (including blogging more regularly and updating my Goodreads page more often, as well as tackling a whole new manuscript, which is only at the very faint general idea stage in my mind at present). I hope you all have a happy, healthy and successful year and wish you all the best with your own writing goals.
Our next retreat focuses on settings and characters, drawing inspiration from some gothic writing of the past. Here’s a little teaser from Sandra to whet your appetites…