Write MAGIC and the Online Writing Community

https://writemagic.org/fairy-bookmothers/

Brought together when the world was at its darkest, to give support to each other and other writers.

So, I normally post half yearly updates of all the writing-related activities/workshops/events I’ve been involved in, but obviously this past year and a half has been unlike anything we’ve faced before, and a number of things (as well as physical trips) fell by the wayside. Writers had to re-evaluate how to work, how to reach their audience, and how to connect. Being a writer can be quite isolating for many at the best of times, but take away in-person critique group meetings, socials, festivals, book launches, retreats, writing in libraries and coffee shops etc. and the world shrinks even further. Which is why becoming involved in Write MAGIC at the start of this year has been an absolute godsend.

I am so proud to be part of such a vibrant online community, where we welcome writers at any stage of their writing career, from beginners to award winners, and those writing for any genre and age group, with a focus on helping each other and getting words on the page. Every day we host online writing sprints on Zoom, where we set our goals for the hour, write for around 50 minutes, and then check back in and chat about how we’ve all done. I find that the friendships formed and things learnt on these sprints are as important as the accountability of actually getting my ‘bum in seat’ and doing the work. And it can lead to other things happening organically, such as ad hoc pitching workshops, synopsis and/or submission package swaps etc. Plus, we have a weekly planning Zoom for people to plan their week ahead. If you’re anything like me, seeing things written down always helps. (And I never really need an excuse for a lovely new notebook or planner!)

Community is a big thing for Write MAGIC. We are proud to have built a relaxed, friendly and supportive online environment for writers, where friendships are being formed daily. However, we wanted to extend a little magic into the world at large and so we asked our members to nominate a school and its nearest independent bookshop. Each month we spin the Wheel of Fortune and one lucky school receives £50 of books of their choice bought by us from their local indie bookshop.

It’s also important for us to support the debut novelists in our community, as making an impact in the week of publication can have a significant effect on a writer’s career. And, as we all know, it’s been doubly hard for debuts recently! So we are sending age appropriate debuts to the schools on the Wheel of Fortune and compiling a list of libraries who will receive debut picture books and novels written for adult readers.

Sound like something you would enjoy? Why not check us out – we’d love to welcome you!

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:

https://www.wordsandpics.org/2019/09/special-feature-scbwi-bis-special.html

August in Edinburgh at the EIBF

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.

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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.

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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.

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So that’s it for another year… Roll on August 2020!

 

2019 so far…

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.

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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!

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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…

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So cute!

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. 😉

My August in Edinburgh

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!

Book Review – Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

THE BLURB

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

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

ELEANOR OLIPHANT

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

THE BLURB

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

In Pursuit of the Strange and Curious…

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…

Source: In Pursuit of the Strange and Curious…

Hello and Goodbye August! (And all the bookish things in between)

Well, August came and went pretty quickly, huh? But what a month it was. Between managing to get lots of writing done on my own YA novel, Sixteen Again, whilst on holiday, to coming home and launching straight into the fabulous Edinburgh Book Festival, then formalising lots of arrangements for our first Chasing Time Writing Retreat in Angus at the end of the month, it’s been all go.

The Edinburgh Book Festival has quickly become a highlight of my literary year, and this year I was lucky enough to include an overnight stay in Edinburgh and to attend lots of author events, as well as two SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) crit groups in the Spiegeltent. Special mention has also to be made of the Unbound evening on the 18th, where singer/songwriter Genevieve Dawson ( @gdawsonmusic ) and novelist Sarah Perry ( @_sarah_perry ) in particular were amazing. (Watch out for Sarah’s book coming out – the writing is beautiful and I was seriously holding back tears by the end).

It was also the first time that I had heard Matt Haig speak, and he had us all spellbound, even as it was touch and go at one point as to whether the Bosco Theatre venue would be blown away by the fierce winds outside. And of course, there was the sold out SCBWI event, The Great Gender Debate, with authors Jonathan Stroud, David Leviathan and Kathryn Evans, ably chaired by the South East Scotland SCBWI Coordinators, Sarah Broadley and Anita Gallo.

I even managed to squeeze in a visit to Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe to support my lovely author friend, Sandra Ireland, who was one of five authors reading from their books. (Check out ‘Beneath the Skin’ by Sandra if you love a slice of gothic noir and fantastically well-written novels).

So that brings me smoothly on to the writing retreats that Sandra, Dawn Geddes and I are launching, with the first one being at the end of this month. It’s come round fast and we’re really looking forward to welcoming all our guests soon. The venue is superbly atmospheric and bound to inspire, and I might even be able to squeeze some more of my own writing in over the weekend too!

The Chasing Time team

For more information go to http://www.chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/retreats

Hope your own writing/reading is going well too – bye for now.

Book Review – Release by Patrick Ness

This is what it says about the book on Goodreads:

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

My own thoughts…

This is the third Patrick Ness novel I’ve read (still have the Chaos Walking trilogy on my TBR pile which I must read soon) and, as usual, I loved it. I think what I most admire about Patrick is the fact that he takes risks when he writes and tries out unusual formats and/or concepts – if you haven’t read his short story in the ‘Losing It’ anthology edited by Keith Gray, you really should, it’s so clever.

Anyway, back to Release. I was so looking forward to this coming out (excuse the pun) and it didn’t disappoint. Adam is a great character, so well drawn, that you immediately empathise with him and his struggle for acceptance, and his best friend, Angela, is brilliant. A seriously kick-ass, got your back kind of best friend. I loved Linus, detested Enzo, and held my breath all the way through a pivotal scene with Adam and his father.

There is a mystical mythology type of story running alongside the main thread and I’ve seen this getting mixed reviews, but I thought it really worked, and that it was another example of Patrick doing something different in a way that only he can. The way that both threads tied up together in the end was almost poetic.
I would definitely recommend this to readers.

**** 4 Stars