The joy of learning and the sadness of analysis

Neil Gaiman’s one of my favourite writers. I’m also rather in awe of his ability to tell a story and manage an audience. Put him on a stage and let him go – there’s an event, right there. Gaiman’s brilliant with kids and takes their questions seriously even when the adults around them want to groan. (Gaiman’s Edinburgh kids events are usually full of adult fans. I know: I’ve been one of them.)

I saw Gaiman when he was in Edinburgh earlier this year, at The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain. I really enjoyed the story, Gaiman’s reading, FourPlay’s music and Eddie Campbell’s art. (The marketing annoyed me a little: I wouldn’t call what is essentially a magic lantern show “a revolutionary new concept of synchronised multi-media storytelling“. But there you go.) It was a good show.

Hin Leung reads Mouth at Liar’s League Hong Kong

Liar’s League’s website says “Writer’s write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everyone wins.” Although I have been known to read my own words on stage, I thoroughly agree that having an actor read them is better for everyone. A professional can add nuances and feeling to my words that I cannot. When I read what I write, the words always mean the same. In someone else’s mouth, they can take on a different meaning.

Also, not all writers are great readers. Some should never red their own stories because they cannot do them justice. And that’s fine. Putting emotion onto a page is a very different skill from pulling it off that page and projecting it into the world. Liar’s League take a writer’s words and gives them to  an actor who performs them for an audience. I think it’s a great idea.

I sent a story to Liar’s League London earlier in the year. They didn’t want it, but, to my great pleasure, passed it on to Liar’s League Hong Kong, who did. In a couple of weeks, Hin Leung will read Mouth, a story about a young man with something growing in his side, to an audience. I wish I could be there! The event might be recorded: I really hope it is because I’d love to hear how Hin brings my words to life.

Liar’s League Hong Kong

Liar’s League presents Here & Queer
When: 29:00, October 27, 2014.
Where: The Dairy, The Fringe Club, Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong

Celebrating Ada Lovelace day: Lady Scientists Stitch & B*tch at Royal Observatory Edinburgh

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Royal Observatory Edinburgh has invited the Lady Scientists to help them celebrate Ada Lovelace day on October 14th.

Madame Lovelace, in whose honor we are invited, is highly conscious of the honor the world has paid her in naming a day for her. I’m convinced she’ll give a spirited account of herself on the night. Madame Sommerville, her old friend, is also delighted to attend. She doesn’t get to see her darling Ada, or indeed her  dear Florence, nearly as often as she would like. Travel becomes more difficult with age, as I am well aware. It is rare that Mademoiselle Nightingale can be tempted away from the hotel she calls home, but she’s promised to tear herself away from her statistical endeavors. I expect Madame Darwin will join us, as usual. She’s a shy one, is Emma Darwin. Not so madame Payne-Gaposchkin, who is rather free with her opinions. She has expressed her interest in the observatory itself, and its facilities.

Of course, without the chronologist who brings us all together our soirés are not possible and we do so enjoy them. It is good to know that she keeps her equipment in working order. A rigorous approach and attention to detail is crucial to good science.

Lady Scientists Stitch & B*tch takes place at Royal Observatory Edinburgh, on Blackford Hill. The event starts at 18:30 and is free, but ticketed. To reserve a seat, email

I hope to see you there.


Marie Curie signature

Appearing on a stage near you soon: Technobabble

One of the things that The Lady Scientists taught me is that I cannot easily learn a script. Not easily – but I can. Glowing with joy at having learned 1,700 words and remembered them when it mattered, I signed up for Illicit Ink‘s next Underground event, Technobabble. All I have to learn for that is 1,000 words.

I felt confident about doing so until I sent the organisers my story yesterday. I only have two weeks. Gasp!

It won’t be a problem. The structure of the piece is such that it should be relatively easy to learn and for most of it, it’s not important that I retell it verbatim.

Writing the piece for this performance was fun and let me play with an idea I’ve had for a while. Usually, I write something and hope to be able to sell it on after performing it. Not this time. This is written as a one off. My aim is to do a performance, feel confident on stage and prove to myself that I can learn a short text. That’s it. There will be no dancing, but there might be sound effects. And a feeling of achievement.

Illicit Ink Underground Technobabble

The Bongo Club
66 Cowgate

Sunday October 5, 20:00 – 22:00

The lady scientists come to Women in Engineering Day at Heriot-Watt University

Next Friday, September 12, 2014, The Lady Scientist Stitch and B*tch, will be performed for the second time. This time, we’re at Heriot-Watt University as part of Women in Engineering Day. We have a tweaked script and some new performers. We have practised on site (a rare treat! Thank you HWU.) and now we’re each doing what we can to perfect our performances and remember our lines.

I’m really looking forward to performing again.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Lady Scientists’ Bitch and Stitch.

Lady Scientist poster at HWU
Look! That’s me, on that poster. There. Next to the woman with the boot.

B*tchin’ Stitches at the Science Festival

I’m extremely pleased to be involved in a performance in the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The event is The Lady Scientists’ Stitch & B*tch*, a time-travelling knitting/sewing circle that sees women scientists from across time get together for a chat. I’m Marie Curie and you’ll also meet Ada Lovelace, Mary Somerville, Florence Nightingale, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and Emma Darwin. We’ve been brought together by a future scientist who has that most amazing of gadgets: a time machine. So what do we talk about?

I’m not going to tell you. The performance is on Friday and I’m not sharing anything until we’re all on stage. Except this: there will be a foot, swearing, stars – both earthly and heavenly – romance, radiation and good manners.

When and where?

Friday April 11, 20:00-22:00.

Scottish Storytelling Centre
43-45 High Street, Edinburgh

Get tickets online, or buy them on the door. Sold out!


* We’re not a meeting of the inspiring Stitch ‘n Bitch world-wide knitting group, and not all the stitching on stage will be knitting. But there will be stitching fun. Feel free to bring works in progress and stitch along.

Words with sounds for Illicit Ink

I’m reading Baby Ben is Crying at Illicit Ink (at The Bongo Club) on May 5th. This time, Babs, Illicit Ink’s benevolent dictator, opened up the floor for performances with a little extra. Costumes are welcome, of course, as are story telling without notes (gasp!) and collaborations.


My friend Rhian Thompson makes electronic music. She likes sine waves and interesting sounds. We first talked about doing something together last year, over beer after the New Writing Scotland launch. When I read the call for Illicit Ink’s Sleeptalking I thought of that chat and got in touch with Rhian. Could we do something together? Yes, we could!

Rhian’s developing background music and Foley and I’ll provide the voice over and story.

So, what was the story? Ah. Well, you know. I hadn’t written it at that point.

So I wrote a story, let it rest, reviewed it, re-wrote it and wrote a second story just in case. Rhian, meanwhile, started collecting sounds. A call on Facebook for the sound of children crying made me very excited: crowd sourcing sounds is collaboration above and beyond my expectation.

Now the story’s written, edited, recorded and submitted. We’re locked in to baby Ben and his pain. Rhian’s collected sounds and we’ve met to talk about lighting and costume. We’re good to go, pretty much.

Come along and hear us. R. A. Martens, George Anderson, Kirsti Wishart, J. A. Sutherland, and Andrew C Ferguson are some of the other writers performing on Sunday. It’ll be awesome.

Reading out loud and meaning every word of it

On May 5th, I’ll be reading at Illicit Ink. The theme is sleep and although I haven’t yet written the story (there’s plenty of time) I have started thinking about the presentation.

In November last year I attended a workshop on performance and presentation, presented by the amazing Alex Gillon and arranged by the Scottish Book Trust. There were eight writers working in a variety of disciplines, from playwrights through novelists and short story writers to poets. All of us need to stand up and present our work  with confidence. As Alex pointed out, every time we read our own work, we’re selling it and we want the audience to go away impressed enough to buy a book.

The workshop was very well timed for me: two weeks later I had two readings same week and it gave me the tools I needed to present with confidence.

It annoys me that I need the help – I used to be a tour guide, I used to do training. I have years of experience of standing up in front of an audience and talking to them. But I haven’t done much of that in the last ten years, and now I work on my own, from home. I’ve forgotten the mechanics of projecting, speaking slowly and anchoring myself to stop my knees from knocking. I used to enjoy the performance aspect of public speaking but I’ve even forgotten the feeling of “yay, everyone’s looking at me!” that was the childish foundation of that enjoyment.

So, I needed the training and I looked forward to it. I had heard a lot about Alex. She trains the Story Shop writers, among others. Alex has a beautiful, schooled voice and doesn’t pull her punches. She tells you what you’re doing wrong until you get it and start doing it right. She breaks you down and gives you the tools to build yourself up. Daunting, yes, she it can be, but I rather liked her technique. In a group, you have a lot of opportunity to learn from other people’s example. The first person to read for Alex gave me a long list of things to think about. I was second. Unsurprisingly, my performance raised new issues for us to think about. The main things I took away were:

  1. Remember to breathe.
  2. Look at your audience. Especially, memorise the first and last lines so the audience can see your face when you read them.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Read out loud whenever you have an opportunity. When you can confidently read someone else’s writing on the first go, you’ll have more space to work on how to your perform your own writing.
  4. Commit to the performance. Go for it. Don’t be afraid. Believe in the words and your ability to deliver them.

I’ll keep Alex’s advice in mind as I first write and then practice my story for May 5th.


(Read an account of the workshop by Andrea Mullaney’s.)

The Seven Wonders of Scotland launch and Illicit Ink

The Seven Wonders of Scotland
The Seven Wonders of Scotland, an anthology from Birlinn examining Scotland today through tales of fictional wonders, is out early November. The book was launched at Changin Scotland last weekend, and has a second launch at Blackwells Bookshop on November 27th, 2012, 18:30 (not 18:00 as first advertised). Gerry Hassan will introduce the book and there will be readings, from me, Kirsti Wishart and other of the writers.

I’ll also be reading at the next Illicit Ink event, 20,000 Words Under the Sea, at The Bongo Club, on December 2nd, 2012, 20:00. The inspiration for my piece, The Corals Wave Back, comes from my natural history hero, David Attenborough, and The Living Ocean. I don’t think I’ll be alone in taking inspiration from that quarter. You’ll also hear Helen Jackson read Ms Chalmers and the Silent Service, Lynsey May and other local writers.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival: things to see and do

Last year, I went rather wild at the book festival. This year, I’m taking it easy. I’ve only booked events at the weekend or in the evening and I’m only doing one workshop. But what a workshop.

1-2-1 Writing Clinic

According to the program, the 1-2-1 Writing Clinic on Sunday 19th is for new writers who wants advice from professionals who have been through it all. To help the adviser, we’ll be asked to submit materials in advance. I’ve got 15 minutes with a publisher at 10:15 in the morning. I’ve got 15 minutes with Francis Bickmore, Editorial Director for Canongate Books. I’ve prepared my one-page CV and am choosing between a number of candidates for 500-word writing samples. 15 minutes isn’t long so to get the best out of my time, I’m thinking hard about the questions I want to ask and, of course, writing them down.

People to see

If the weather is good, Charlotte Square is quite a nice place to just hang out. You don’t have to have tickets for things to have a cup of tea, browse the book shop and do a bit of author spotting. (But don’t crowd the author’s yurt. It’s bad form.) The festival programme has all kinds of fun and I’m attending a couple of debates as well as author talks. Here are the events I’m particularly looking forward to:

Things to do

Then there’s Unbound, the free event in the Spiegeltent. They offer all kinds of booky fun in a relaxed atmosphere and for no cost other than what you spend on drink. I’m hoping to go to:

  • Wednesday 15: Magic Words – Illicit Ink at unbound! Fun times with magicians.
  • Friday 17: Literary death-match. I’ve never been to one. It’s time to change that.
  • Friday 24: Swimming and Flying, a talk by Mark Haddon.
  • Monday 27: It will be all write on the night… To close the festival brave souls will finish an audience-lead story on the night. No time for edits here. R. A. Martens and George Anderson are part of the fun.