Blog re-vamp, come and see!

Hi everyone, thank you all for following my journey towards procrastination heaven on this Great Big Jar blog.

I have decided to change my blog name to my actual name so although I have migrated all the posts and other technical aspects over, I would love you to join me at instead.

Please click on the link and come and say hello, subscribe to my blog posts and the usual general shenanigans that seem to follow me everywhere.

See you all soon!

P.s I will no longer be updating this blog. All new posts will appear on

Sssshhh! Writer at Work

I’ve been to many book launches and ‘in conversation with’ events and one question (and its variants) always crops up during the Q & A.

Do you listen to music when you write? Is a radio blasting out tunes in the background as you conquer each chapter? Do you write in a cafe or even a shed in your garden?

Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes and no are my answers to these particular questions but regardless of where I am, when I do listen to music, I have my go-to artists.

It’s all dependant on where I am with a story.

For the first draft or vomit draft, as some writers call it, I usually work in silence. If I’m stuck or have no idea what will come next in this new creative world I’m conjuring up, I stick on some Motown. I think Martha and her fabulous Vandellas telling me that there’s ‘no-where to run to’ confirms my exemplary procrastination skills are defeated and I need to get my head down. Each word added at this time is a bonus – usually given in the form of a biscuit to go with yet another cuppa.

Once the first draft is painstakingly finished, I can then move on to the first edit. I don’t normally need silence for this because the bones of the tale are down, it’s now my job to fill in the blanks and make sure there is a chance of a workable story somewhere in the pages of notes. This is when the radio is turned on. The white noise coming from the wee box that sits in the corner of the room is a comfort for when I’m picking through the sentences I had written..

Further edits are met with silence but in some cases songs from Tracey Chapman and The Doors may make an appearance on my turntable (I believe people in my age range who have vinyl prefer the word retro). Jim Morrison was a poet before his songs made him famous, in particular his tracks from the album Soft Parade are a nod to his genius in this field and regularly get aired in my room. Tracy’s soft voice and guitar chords are just the right medicine for anyone needing a reassuring voice in the creative dark. Regardless of whether your drive a Fast Car or not, ‘Talking About a Revolution’ makes me cry so I tend to avoid that one. Newton Faulkner can also be heard singing about his dreams catching him, an apt song for this occasion if ever there was one.

A read-through comes next. This is when I read my words out loud as I seem to spot mistakes better that way. The wonderful lull of Stevie Wonder always helps me out at this point, in particular anything from his album Songs in the Key of Life, especially ‘If It’s Magic’.

Pressing send requires a lot of courage. What better way to send your story on its way to readers to tell you whether all the late nights/early mornings have been worth it, than a great big dollop of ACDC. Back in Black… font.

My Edinburgh International Book Festival

Every August, the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s tents go up in Charlotte Square and more recently in George Street too. I kiss my family good bye and say ‘it’s only 17 days, I’ll be back soon’. That is, of course, a slight exaggeration (quiet at the back).

Chairing seven events with eight creatives, I knew this year was going to be special and it was. I got to see behind the scenes and meet all the wonderful people that make the festival go like clockwork – from the ticket sellers in the main entrance to the sound technicians who ensure you have a mic that works and the clicker will indeed get you to the next slide of your power point presentation without you having to resort to interpretative dance in front of a blank screen (not that this happened).

Thank you to those who I managed to get a photo of, there are many more not mentioned below who keep me safe in my little world, you know who you are.

In the order displayed below (l to r): Dr Sheila Kanani, Emma Lazell, Charlotte Guillain, AL Kennedy, Chris Close‘s photo of Justin, the Kelpies Prize giving, Mairi Kidd & Siobhán Parkinson, Oscar Silvas & Dougie Irvine, Ann Giles, Candy Gourlay, Elizabeth Laird, Chloe Daykin, Darren Shan, David Almond, Lauren James, Elizabeth Frattaroli, Patrice Lawrence (& childhood friends), David Solomons, Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet, Justin Davies and Jackie Kay & all.

The Fear

Pressing send on an important e-mail makes my hands sweat, droplets appear on my top lip and I feel like I’ve just consumed something that is going to make me throw up. It’s not because I feel awful about what I’m about to do, on the contrary, it’s more to do with the expectation of what might happen next.

There’s a common theme that runs through my blog posts and that is the ‘what if’s’. No-one wants to know what’s running around in my head when that happens. There isn’t a blog space that would be big enough for all my ‘what if’ worries, so this is what I do to help me get the information to the person who has requested it as quickly and stress-free as possible:

1.Spellcheck is your friend, use it before you press send. Your fast-beating heart will thank you for it.

2.Is the e-mail address correct? Have you spelled their name correctly? Do they have a preferred way to contact them? And are you using that preferred way? Did you actually check the submission page on their website?

3. Did you attach the attachment you have written to them about before pressing send? I’m not going to lie, I may have done this in the past and I can assure you it’s not a good thing to do for your sanity or theirs. What hope do they have for you if you can’t attach a file to an e-mail that politely says ‘please find attached…’ (it may have been years ago when I was new to the whole ‘sending out to agents’ thing but I still cringe about it and I will never tell you who it was).

4. Nothing bad can ever happen if you have completed 1, 2 & 3 to the best of your ability. All they can say is no and you will dig deep for inner courage and move on. Nod if you’ve just been through this, it does get better, honest.

5. Do not press send on the same day/right after you type up your covering e-mail. Leave it a few hours sitting in your drafts folder or even better, leave it overnight. There will be less chance of mistakes if you give your brain a chance to digest what you’re doing. Brains can get over excited and eager to press send before the owner of the brain is physically ready.

6. As much as some of us like a glass of wine to unwind of an evening, do not press send after a few ‘dutch courage’ snifters. It will all end in tears, literally. Or you’ll write that you really love them and I mean really love them and no-one wants that. Yes, your love is appreciated but not in that way. And no, I am not speaking from experience here but I have seen the aftermath of such scenarios that involve apologetic phone calls, weeping, hiding under duvets with embarrassment followed by mumbled shouts of ‘I am never writing/submitting to that agent/coming out of here again’ from within the confines of a cosy blanket.

7. The truth be told, I don’t press send. I do however follow the above 6 rules and once I am ready and I have attached my document and everything in the spelling world is fine and dandy…

…I get my son to press it instead.

Dear Diary

I know I’m not the only writer out there that has a notebook beside their bed. I use mine to write down the character ideas and plot points that float around in my grey matter desperate to be noticed, which normally coincides with when I’m just about to close my eyes and wait for sleep to arrive.

Yet, sometimes a notebook isn’t quite enough? What about everything else that’s going on? To-do lists, bills to pay, is the car MOT due soon or is that next month, where do I find X, Y or Z without breaking the bank, are the kids OK, would they tell me if they weren’t? – all these things and more need to be written down, it’s as if my mind needs to discuss everything with me before it’s ready to let me rest at the end of the day.

I started writing a diary when I was about to go into first year at high school. At least I think it was then, I haven’t found any well-thumbed notebooks from before that time and I am a bit of a hoarder.

I’m not sure why I started at that point, maybe it’s because I was nearly 12 and heading to the ‘Big School’ or maybe it was more because I had a vague idea what lay in store for me and I needed an outlet for my worries. My sisters had obviously told me all about high school, their tales about some of the teachers and consequences of not doing homework etc had been stretched into fantasy just to scare me but I knew that some of what they said was true. Though at that point, I was more interested in the 80s band A-ha and whether Morten Harket could possibly find love with a Scottish soon-to-be teenager who had a Pierrot Clown duvet cover that had never occurred to me to realise I was now too old for.

Fast forward mumble years and I still use a diary. Not every night to be fair, I mainly keep it for the good/bad things that have happened on any particular day. It’s filled with hopes for my family and what lies ahead for my stories amid the ever-increasingly crazy world we live in.

The worries never seem to go away, they just change form and morph into other meaningful things at each point in my life but at least they feel somehow ‘managed’ a bit better now that they’re shared on the page. The importance of each one paling into insignificance as I furiously scribble my woes most nights. Sometimes the pages are spattered with amazing things that have happened and sometimes they’re filled with sad or anxious thoughts that never seem to leave me be. Niggling at my happiness, convincing me that they need a voice too.

These musings may never be read again but the act of writing them down snapshots a moment in my life that I may well have forgotten the next again day.

It’s good to know the memories are still there, should I ever choose to go back in time.