What If What?

Me: OK, I think it’s ready.

Inner me: Are you sure?

Me: Well, I could maybe have another look just to be on the safe side.

Inner me: How many edits have you done? Done a line edit yet? Dialogue check, grammar, POV…?

Me: Eleventy billion on my last count, give or take.

Inner me: oh well, one more won’t hurt will it?

Me: No, I’m pressing send.

Inner me: You are? Right. Well, if you’re sure?

Me: No, of course I’m not sure. Do you think it’s ready? I mean you’re always telling me to go for it, so that’s what I’m doing. Going for it.

Inner me: Yes, of course. I’m just here to mess with your head. Don’t mind me.

Me: But what if…

Inner me: What if what?

Me: Nothing, There is no what if. It’s gone. I’ve pressed send. I feel a bit sick now.

Inner me: Go and lie down for a bit. I’ll annoy you with nonsense chatter in your brain while you rest. It’s the least I can do.

Me: *smiles with relief that the BBOD (Big Button of Destiny) has FINALLY been pressed, ignores ramblings of mind about the what ifs that could possibly happen now that it’s been sent*

 

 

Reminiscing about my Summer reads

There are two things I love about being on holiday somewhere that doesn’t have Scottish weather:

  1. The heat. The dip of a roasty toasty me in a cooling sea and the cold beers at the end of a water-sports filled day.
  2. I get time to read a lot of books.

This Summer was no different. As much as I prefer to hold an actual book in my hand, the flying gods have other ideas when it comes to how heavy my suitcase can be so I dust off my first-gen kindle and I download books until my heart’s content. Here’s my thoughts on the pages that joined me in the sun this year:

Marnie Riches – Book 4 of The George McKenzie series ‘The Girl Who Had No Fear. I’m a huge fan of Marnie Riches crime novels and the amazing characters she creates, so I was delighted that another of George’s stories was being published this year.

George McKenzie finds herself caught up in the world of crime once again. It seems wherever she goes, trouble is not far behind. The volatile relationship she has with her partner, who is also the Chief Inspector of the cases she seems to unwillingly get herself involved in, leaves me sitting on the edge of my seat as they both travel the literary globe dicing with death and everything that is thrown their way. From bodies afloat in the canals of Amsterdam to the humid cartel-driven lands of Central America searching for her father, when I open a Riches book, I know I am about to go on a wild adventure filled with blood, gore and a huge dollop of suspense. There may be the odd sleepless night because I don’t want the story to end but a few cups of tea can easily sort that out. Read them all though, not just book 4, her story is amazing and I hope there will be more to come.

Natalie Fergie – The Sewing Machine

For many years I used to watch my granny push the iron pedal on her Singer sewing machine. I’m the youngest of five so she made a lot of our clothes to help out my mum and dad. I was delighted to hear that Natalie was writing this novel and meeting her in person this year just confirmed exactly what I had hoped. A wonderful author who loves the old machines as much as I do.

What I love about this book, is the attention to detail. Spanning generations across the families of Jean, Connie and Fred, I was slowly but surely shown their connections along the way. Natalie has a brilliant knack of making sure little nuggets of info leave you guessing right to the very end. I loved the historical nod to the actual Singer factory and how, over the years, one machine saw so many events and predicaments its owners would face – some sad and some overwhelming with joy. An absolute belter of a book.

Ross Sayers – Mary’s The Name 

There aren’t many books with my mum’s name in the title so this debut immediately grabbed my attention. I also smiled to myself when I realised it’s set in Skye, a place I have visited many times and loved.

This book will amaze you as it’s told from the point of view of 8 year-old Mary. How Ross managed to do this, I will never know but as soon as I read the first page, her voice jumped out at me and took me by the hand, leading me on the tumultuous journey she made with her grandad.

Ross manages to capture the innocence of Mary and the relationship she has with her grandad as if I had known them all my life, not just mere characters in a book. I nodded a lot while I read this book as it made me reminisce about the ‘gone but not forgotten’ relatives I was fortunate to grow up with and love. I’m not going to lie, it made me cry but it also made me belly laugh too in equal measures. I really felt for Mary as she was taken from the city she knew to live in the rural landscape of Skye and its unforgiving weather. Her feisty character shines through and her naivety along with her grandad’s sense of humour and optimistic outlook on life after everything has gone a little awry, are a match made in heaven, A must for everyone out there who craves adventure with the ones you love, against all odds. Family is the heart of this story and I can’t wait to read whatever comes next from him. I am not surprised Mary’s the Name has been shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book Award 2017. Good luck, Ross!

Moira McPartlin – Wants of the Silent

If you’d asked me a few years ago which Young Adult stories I liked, I would probably have struggled to name them as it’s not a genre I read a lot of. Until now.  I was introduced to Moira’s writing through her award-winning debut The Incomers – one of my all time favourite reads. Moira has since turned me into a fan of dystopian novels that Hunger Games and the like failed to do. The imagery and language used in her story transports me to another world set in the not so distant future and its remaining inhabitants are running out of time to survive. Flood waters have risen, governments have been overturned and replaced with dictatorships that are not that dissimilar to what we are experiencing at the moment. Those that are left, survive on sheer determination and guts alone.

The second in her Sun Song trilogy, ‘Wants of the Silent’ took me on the next stage of the story of Sorlie and his vagabond friends and the miscreants that he seems to collect along the way.  They try to uncover the mystery of the Prince and save their own skin at the same time. Warning!!! – there is no getting away from holding your breath at the underwater scene, just fantastic! Sorlie’s adventure only brings death, unrelenting longing for his family as Moira creates it all wrapped up in a superb coming-of-age tale that will leave you wanting to know when the third part of this epic trilogy will be released! Hurry up Moira (in a nice way).

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

There’s something about a quirky title that really catches my eye. I knew the moment I saw the burnt-tipped matches and the wording on the cover that I was going to enjoy this book. As ever, the blurb on the back just drew me in even more and I read the first three chapters as I walked home from the book shop. It’s been years since a book has held my attention in that way.

Eleanor is not like everyone else. And I’m glad about that. I think the world would be a very dull place if we were all the same. I’d like to think Eleanor would allow me to be her friend but only if I followed her rules of life, a path I’d be willing to take as a refreshing change to the cruel and heartless society we live in and which is portrayed so well in this novel. Eleanor’s views of the world are taken one step further as there is no limit to the uncensored literal dialogue that comes out of her, to surprise and sometimes shock, those she meets. Emotional and psychological damage from a horrific childhood event left me wondering whether she was going to make it and I rooted for her with every step she took and every page I turned. Outstanding book. Go and buy it now, in fact run and buy it and start it on the way home, you’ll miss your stop on the bus but it will be worth it. There should be more Eleanor’s in the world, it would be a much happier place. And yes, I got the ending I wanted. Thank you, Gail.

**********

I leave you with the literary memories of my Summer. The words from these books are with me still, echoing around me as I write and read. Whether you’re a George, an Eleanor, a Sorlie, a Jean, Fred or Connie or a Mary – there’s a story out there for you somewhere.

One tomato, two tomato, three tomato, four

It appears that most of my posts have the word procrastination in them. It seems I may have an issue with trying to find a way to JUST GET ON WITH IT.

Not to panic though, help is at hand. Every week I meet up with my fellow writers and we eat cake, write, eat more cake, write some more and then I head home feeling heavier round the waist and lighter in my pocket but most importantly I can hold my head high because I achieved something. I wrote. Words in a draft that may or may not make sense to anyone else but they are perfect to me.

What’s my secret? Do I have a ghost-writer who jots down my every word as I sip hot chocolate, alas no, I’m not famously busy enough for any of that. Maybe I talk into my phone Fox Mulder style and eat cherry pie. No. So, what do I do?

I count tomatoes.

And no I haven’t suddenly lost it, it’s called the Pomodoro technique. There are different aspects to it which you can change to suit your needs but if you have a deadline or just want to STOP FAFFING then this is your guy/gal. Your saviour of the continual head-banging on the table in frustration, your knight in shiny red fruity/veg armour. You get the picture.

Using an egg timer/clock/app/watch/fancy technical doo daa – set an alarm for 25 minutes. Now write. Just write. No distractions, no internet, no social media, just write. No grammar, no punctuation. Just write.

Try not to jump out of your seat when the alarm goes (yes, I have done that in the past)  instead, get up from your seat and get a drink of water, whatever you need to clear your mind a little and away from the screen. Once five minutes are up, do the same – set alarm for 25 mins and repeat.

Each 25 minute slot is 1 tomato. So, how many tomatoes do you want to achieve today? Me? I was a 1 tomato day today.

Please note that as they are all fictitious tomatoes, they can be any colour, size or gender you like. Maybe you could doodle them on your page while you decide what to do next.

Perfetto.

P.S tomatoes were not harmed in the making of this post.

 

Run… and become?

Wheezing my way around Arthur’s Seat on Saturday 27th May, I ponder why I am doing this. Six miles across unseasonably scorching tarmac, with admittedly tremendous views, I run as fast as my wee legs can carry me. The cheerful tone of my running app lady tells me I’m doing not too bad considering, my beetroot face says otherwise though.

Amy Ford from ECHC in the house!

The excitement in the air as the starting countdown begins, reaches my section towards the back (easy now) and fills me with even more determination. As we begin there’s a new-found sense of camaraderie among the fellow smiley strangers that urge each other on, especially when ‘that’ hill appears at the 2k mark. It’s infectious.

The lull of laughter eats into the croon of Paolo Nutini as he waxes lyrical about growing up beside me. He didn’t grow up beside me but his chocolate voice calms my nerves and lets me find my pace. I chuckle as the oohs and aahs from those taking part that are new to my city, filter in through my ear phones as they remark at my taken-for-granted skyline in the blazing sun.

I’m lucky, I nearly shout. I get to live here and see this everyday!

Buzz Lightyear runs past me smiling as he gathers pace, never stopping even when he needs to raise the mask he’s wearing for some cool air to help him along. I salute you my fine out-of-this-world friend. I then spot what I can only describe as a nutter in a cow onesie, the spotty pattern makes no meals of how perhaps another non-fleecy outfit choice should’ve been made. But then we don’t normally get weather like this in Edinburgh.These amazing humans I’ve met along the radical road are what this is all about.

Sue and Aby #TeamECHC

Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

It’s roasting. I’m a bit emotional, as I always am when I do something like this, but it’s all for a good cause, right?

Right! It certainly is.

I’m raising money for kids, so I channelled my inner-child (not difficult because I can be very silly) and wore a tutu. I have to admit, in that heat, I was glad I was a fleece and acrylic-free zone. An assortment of netting, ribbon and colours of the rainbow caught my eye every time I raised a knee and why not.

It was light enough to not wear me down and it brought a smile to the championing crowd as I ran/wheezed past them – a win in my eyes. Donna Summer crooning in my ear, I smile and wave back enjoying the cheery faces urging me on. ‘You can do it’ I lip read over the 80’s mix of nonsense blasting in my ears.

I want to thank the MacMillan guys at the mini roundabout on the last 1k, you have no idea how much I needed your ‘high five this board if you need more power’, the finishing line was just ahead and the magic of cardboard certainly bestowed its powers on me. I owe you a debt of gratitude and a cold beer.

I can’t complain about the fracture in my elbow or my recovery from a trapped nerve when I’m running for the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity. When I just can’t take one more step, I think of the Clown Doctors making their way around the wards cheering up all the children, the famous panto guys taking time out of their schedules to visit toddlers and babies on beeping machines who just need something else to think about for a minute or two, or the visits to Edinburgh Castle for patients and their families to enjoy – a respite from their daily life of looking after their seriously ill children. I might be biased because I work for ECHC but the effort and unrelenting passion the staff have for the cause is just fantastic. 

That’s what I think about when I run.

I think about what else I can raise funds for to make these children still feel like children even when the sun is shining but they can’t go outside the wards they call home.

Words can’t really express what I want to say to everyone who donated towards my run. The generosity and enthusiasm for my mad dash around my beloved city has been emotionally overwhelming and slightly surreal. A mere thank you just doesn’t really do it justice but that’s all I have right now.

I just want to make a difference, no matter how small. And you can too. Run and become that person that gives a little back.

Child first. Patient second.

My Life as a Creative Octopus

I sometimes wonder how I manage to keep all the creative plates I spin from crashing to the ground and smashing into little pieces. Splinters that I know I would never find again, even with my varifocals on.

My writing process is a bit like that, I finish my synopsis, draft 1 is next, followed by reviewing my bio and the careful preparation of a covering letter that will hopefully make the gatekeepers want to read on. Have I forgotten anything? Is it in the right format? Is it what they asked for?

It’s as if my work-in-progress is taunting me, ‘ah, so you think you’ve finished’, it says in my ear just as I place my envelope in the dark post box mouth of destiny.

‘Spreadsheet’ it whispers on the wind as I head home thinking about all the potential mistakes I’ve made in what I’ve just sent out – a curse of being a writer.

I keep a spreadsheet for all the submissions I’ve sent out to Gatekeepers’ mysterious lairs. I tend to send out two at a time and I bet all of the companies you want to send your stories too prefer a different format, different amount of words, by e-mail, by post etc – the submission guideline list is endless but if you’re prepared, then you will be fine.

I use Libreoffice on Ubuntu but the selections and formatting are practically the same regardless of what operating system you use. To follow is a very basic example of setting up a spreadsheet to keep submission info in…

Open excel/equivalent and select new file. A fresh clean empty page will appear on your screen.

First thing to do before you do anything else is save your new sheet in an on-line folder you will remember. Where do you normally save your documents? C drive? K drive? Perhaps in the same on-line yellow folder where you keep all your story files? Maybe you could create a new folder and keep all your submissions in one place? I would recommend naming each submission folder by year or by publisher/agent – whatever works for you.

Once the clean sheet is saved, you will see the new file name appearing at the top of the page with .xls after it. Yay! Fabulous start.

What information do you instantly want to know from a glance at your spreadsheet? Here’s an example of some subject headers –

Company name – e.g Nosy Crow

Award – if applicable (e.g New Writers Award)

Required – e.g 3500 words from latest WIP, 500 word synopsis, covering letter, writing achievements… Remember to always check font formats from submission guidelines. If you need to complete an on-line form, it’s a good idea to draft up your responses elsewhere and copy and paste into submission forms when you’re happy.

Name – the editor/agent’s name would go here

E-mail – their e-mail address not yours. Yes, I have done that in the past.

Website info – best place to get info on that company/award

File name – add link to the file you sent to this company i.e c:/temp/writing/submissions/May 2017/My story by Great Big Jar 3500 words.doc – you won’t panic if they call or you can’t remember where you saved it. May 2017 should also have all the documents mentioned in the ‘required’ cell. Keep them all in the same folder and saved as what they are My Story synopsis, My Story bio, My Story writing achievements. so when you look for the yellow folder in the file path you will see them all sitting under there. Behaving.

Date sent – date you hit the black button of destiny on your keyboard or posted your pristine pages in the red box.

Deadline date – there will be a deadline date for an award here or put a date in this section that you want to reach before you check in with them. We all do it, so might as well have it in writing.

Reply received – you will be astonished at the difference in each companies reply – same day, same week, same month, a year – expect the unexpected and try not to bombard them with ‘have you read my sub yet’ e-mails. One chase up is enough and preferably after the time they have stated in their guidelines.

Pester date – this is the date that I keep a note of, it reminds me of when I can send a quick ‘have you read my amazing work, you have, haven’t you and you just don’t have the words to tell me how awesome it is and the contract is ready to go’ or not, but you get my meaning.

Now back to your page – you will see that horizontal columns are alphabetised and vertical columns are numerical. You can change the size of any cell by hovering over the line that splits one column from another, a double-headed arrow symbol appears. Just drag and drop to the size you need.

All the bold words mentioned above or your choice of headers can then be typed across the cells – Company Name in cell A 1, Award in cell B 1 and so on. If the heading is too long you just need to resize the cell as before. One you are happy with your row of horizontal headers, make them stand out – bold, italics, underlined, font, size – these tools can all be found on the bar at the top of the screen.  Now you can add in all the submissions you have sent – using one line for each submission. If you’re feeling good about it all, leave a line between each one. Space them out, let them breathe. Go mad, add colour as the replies come in –  green for YES they want more, red for not today thanks, orange for maybe?

If there are too many words in one cell – right click on the cell you want to increase in size, select FORMAT CELLS then ALIGNMENT and tick the box that says WRAP TEXT AUTOMATICALLY. The cell will automatically grow bigger to accommodate the words you have entered and will also change the row to sort itself out – streamlined and perfect.

Now that you have all this info there, you don’t need to worry about who’s still to get back to you etc. Start another WIP and carry on being creative. You have indeed made progress and there will be an agent/publisher out there for you, you just have to have a little hope.

Be Awesome. Always.

Good luck!