2017 – A Year In Review

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.

 

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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…

Inaugural Retreat Success

Here’s our latest Chasing Time blog post following our first retreat last weekend, which went even better than we could have hoped for. We’ve already had three 5* reviews (which are included at the end of the post), and are looking forward to doing it all again in a few weeks time!

Source: Inaugural Retreat Success

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

My Newest Favourite Writing Nook

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I have just returned from our summer holidays where I was lucky enough to go on a cruise around Italy, France, Spain and Portugal (it was soooo hot!) I was looking forward to the break for obvious reasons, as well as perhaps one huge not so obvious one. Having cruised before, I know how much my two love going to the onboard kids’ club on days at sea and making new friends. It’s great seeing them happy and excited, but there’s an added bonus for me too. Metime. My husband is also happy to relax and do his own thing on these days, so it leaves me lots of time to write.

The ship only had its own library – #bliss

 

 

I managed to get more of my work in progress (Sixteen Again) written in those five days than I’ve achieved over the past month and a half of the school holidays, and it felt good to go old school and write longhand as well. Now I just need to type it up and see if any of it makes sense!

Hope your own writing is going well.

 

 

 

 

Chasing Time Writing Retreats

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As per Sandra’s post on her own website, which I shared here earlier this month, I have more exciting news about the launch of our tutored residential writing retreats.  Two writing friends and I have set up Chasing Time Writing Retreats in a beautiful and quirky Scottish country house, and are excited to share our passion for writing with others. The programme is now up and running and we have taken our first bookings.

Having been lucky enough to go on various writing retreats myself, I know how valuable it can be to escape the everyday routines and commitments you may have at home, and be able to concentrate solely on developing your writing. In Rosely Country House Hotel, Arbroath, we have found the perfect place to host our retreats, with its uniquely atmospheric setting sure to provide writing motivation around every corner.

If this is the sort of thing that appeals, why not click on the link below and check out the rest of our website? We’d love to see you there. 🙂

Source: Retreats

Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference 2017

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I’m just back from this year’s Scottish Association of Writers Conference at The Westerwood Hotel (@TheWesterwoodQ) in Cumbernauld. And what another fantastic weekend it has been! The SAW Council work hard to put on such a great event and this year we had the biggest turn out from our writing group, @AWCAngus since I started attending a few years ago. It’s so good to be able to spend more time with friends and get to know each other better, as well as just generally soak up the buzz of being in the company of like-minded people. The icing on the cake is that we again came away with some prizes and placings in the various competitions that are adjudicated over the weekend, including top prizes of The Dorothy Dunbar Rose Bowl for poetry for our Club Secretary, Sandra Ireland (author of ‘Beneath The Skin’), and The Constable Silver Stag for a General Novel to Pam Turner.

Last year I was lucky enough to win the beautiful T.C. Farries trophy for a Children’s Novel, and it was with a certain reluctance that I found myself packing it up in order to pass the baton. However the consolation was that this year it was awarded to fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) member, Sheila Adamson, so it was a bit like keeping it in the family.

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Apart from the competitions and the social side, there are a number of fantastic SAW workshops to attend, and my favourite two of the weekend were run by YA authors Keith Gray and Victoria Gemmell (another fellow SCBWI). Thank you both for being so lovely and helping to turn it into such a special weekend once again. I was also able to attend an outside workshop run by editor and literary consultant, Claire Wingfield (www.clairewingfield.co.uk) and between the three of them, have left feeling inspired and keen to get back to my own work in progress.

Our keynote speaker was the very funny Helen Lederer who rounded off a brilliant conference.

If you would like to know more about Angus Writers’ Circle you can follow us on Twitter @AWCAngus, and I hope your own writing is going well.

 

 

 

 

Pitching Your Stories

This comes to you a little later than hoped as, like many it seems, we have been a little laid up with colds and flu over December and then we hit the madness of Christmas and the New Year.  Speaking of which, Happy New Year and hope 2017 will be a happy, healthy and productive year for all of you.

Anyway, I had earlier promised to post some highlights of my recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference so I thought I would start with pitching, especially as this also ties in nicely with recent Twitter pitches that I have taken part in over the past few weeks.

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At the conference I attended a pitching session with Benjamin Scott who said that ‘our goal in pitching is simply to excite another person about our story… whether an agent, editor, parent or reader’.  Simple, huh?  Why is it then that as soon as somebody asks what our book/story is about, many of us struggle to summarise it, or can turn into gibbering idiots?  (I find the latter tends to happen to me, especially when you throw an agent into the mix!)  He continued that ‘the expectation should be that sounds like an interesting idea, tell me more’ notthis is going to get me an agent, publisher, make me the next JK Rowling.  These lower expectations immediately lessen the pressure.’

Pitching is therefore just presenting your work in the best possible light for maximum excitement, but you should bear the following in mind;

  • You can choose to pitch – it’s never compulsory
  • Relax – having a prepared pitch makes it easier to relax
  • Versatility – a good pitch is useful for many things
  • Creative aid – when constructing one it can act as a great developmental tool as it helps identify what’s at the heart of your book
  • What is the peril, the conflict, and the consequences?

Conflict is the beating heart of the story and what happens is an expression of the conflict.  So avoid listing what happens, e.g. ‘Steph goes to her brother, then her mother, and then the bank to borrow money.  Lastly she goes to a drug dealer,’ and focus on the conflicts at the core of the story instead.  Avoid using bespoke and confusing story language, distill the best bits, ignore the subplots and try to focus on the heart of the story.

A good pitch should introduce the main protagonist, give an indication of target audience and genre, lay out the core conflict and leave people wanting more, i.e. what is happening, to who, and why?  What is at stake?

Also perhaps, is it similar in style to any other books on the market?  Or can the writing style be likened to other authors (this can be particularly helpful if it is similar to another author you know the person likes, or perhaps already represents).  One technique can be to use XXX meets XXX, something which is also apparently quite popular when pitching scripts to Hollywood.

You have probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ concept, where you should be able to summarise your book in the short space of time it would take to ride in a lift between floors (in the unlikely event that the agent/publisher of your dreams just happens to get in the lift with you).  This is similar to a paragraph synopsis, which I’ve also seen some writing competitions ask for alongside your writing sample.

To challenge yourself even more, it seems that Twitter pitches are becoming more common as well.  These are organised events with a designated hashtag where you have to tweet your pitch in around 136 characters (to leave sufficient room for the appropriate hashtag), and where agents and publishers are able to dip in and out and favourite any tweets that grab their attention.  This is in effect an invitation to submit directly to them and skip the dreaded slush pile.  A recent example was organised by Emergents CIC Ltd and XPO North in Scotland, with the hashtag #xpo (followed by the appropriate letter for your genre of book).  Or look out for #PitchMAS, which takes place each December and was set up by two US authors.  It’s a long-shot, but if you don’t put yourself out there then you never know!

Now, back to the conference.   I’m not holding myself up as an expert by any means, but thought you may be interested in seeing what I came up with during the breakout session.  In general it seemed to do the job, with both Benjamin and our surprise guest, Imogen Cooper of the fantastic Golden Egg, giving me decent feedback and encouragement.

The Maze Runner meets Alex Rider in a contemporary upper MG thriller featuring a sinkhole, a sinister cult and a secret bunker of trapped children.  When disillusioned 15-year-old Will sees a sinkhole appear in their living room and swallow his twin brother and sister, this is no simple freak of nature.  Sunk! is a story of siblings, where one is being hunted above ground and the others are trapped below the earth.  Where can you turn when you’ve been betrayed by those you trust the most?

I’ll leave things here for now but will lay out some valuable words of wisdom from one of our keynote speakers, Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, in my next post.

SCBWI Conference & Harry Potter

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A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Winchester for my first ever Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference and I’m still buzzing!

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on the various workshops and keynote speakers (once I’ve calmed down enough to be able to decipher my notes) and hope to share some of the useful tips and words of wisdom from what was a jam-packed weekend.

One highlight for me though has to be the Mass Book Launch Party on the Saturday night, where we were invited to dress up as one of our favourite book characters.  My first thought was perhaps Mary Poppins, but then the logistics of transporting the outfit, her bag and of course the famous parrot umbrella on an over eight hour train journey ruled that out.

Being a (Scottish) Harry Potter fan, my next option was very obvious.  Who else could I choose but Professor Minerva McGonagall?  As it turned out, I was in very good company as Harry himself was there, along with a couple of Luna Lovegoods, Professor Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Dolores Umbridge and even Hedwig! To make things extra special, see if you can work out who Professor Dumbledore is…

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(Clue – he is someone very instrumental in bringing the world of Harry Potter to us all)