#stayathome – and attend #BigBookWeekend

I’m quietly excited about Big Book Weekend, the digital book festival that runs this coming weekend. It’s free, sponsored by BBC Arts and Arts Council England and has a slew of big names speaking and performing.

The festival has a virtual venu with spaces like a book shelf, a café and a theatre. The box office is a natural first step and I look forward to finding out how it feels on the day. Will it be more interactive, more ‘real’ than a festival that’s a list of links?

I’m looking forward to Laura Lam, Neil Gaiman, and A.L. Kennedy to keep the list short and sweet. I’ll be watching around other crucial tasks like year-end accounting and editing my own novel. Fingers crossed for rain.

Makiruku’s First Courtship accepted for New Writing Scotland 34

New Writing Scotland has a special place in my heart because it showcases current Scottish writing, from newbies like me to well-established writers. I also like it because it was the first print market to buy one of my stories. So, a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see a letter from them: they’ve accepted my short story Makiruku’s First Courtship for New Writing Scotland 34.

Makiruku is a minor character from a longer work I’m working on. This story was a way for me to explore his origin story. I’m rather fond of the guy, self-obsessed grump that he is.

The anthology will be released later in the year. Details to follow.

Meet Makiruku the kappa

Kappas are Japanese water demons who sometimes eat people, sometimes help them. Their skulls have an interesting shape: a bowl at the top is full of water that gives them strength. Kappas can be malevolent and spiteful but they are always very polite. And that’s useful: in case the one you meet isn’t a nice helpful kappa, bow deeply. It will bow too and spill the water in its skull bowl, spilling its energy and strength.

This is Makiruku. He turned up in the Bristol channel one day.

Makiruku, the kappa

Paper, audio and e-readers. Gotta catch them all?

I do, yes.

I’m an avid consumer of fiction in all its forms: audio books, ebooks, books, comics, films, occasionally even television. Since I started writing, I don’t have much time for TV or film but I continue to read. And listen.

Audio books are controversial. I know lots of people who wouldn’t consider listening to one and who assume – as I did when I started using them – that they are all badly abridged for easy consumption. It is true that I dont always listen very actively but that doesn’t mean that the the books are well produced. The problem with audio is that you tune it out when you need to so there are times when I miss bits. I’ve listened to audio books for years – when cleaning, cooking, showering, commuting, walking, waiting, travelling – but when I really want to pay attention, I get the paper version.

Well, that was before I came decided to read Jo Walton’s Among Others on my phone, came across the Humble Bundle’s e-book bundle, read Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City on a Sony Reader and requested a Kindle for my birthday. I now read on screen more than on paper. The benefit: I don’t need the bedside light on and an e-reader won’t get it’s pages all mushed up in my handbag. Drawbacks: I can’t easily (or legally) borrow digital books from my friends, and, of course, I don’t own these books. And it does doesn’t leave my bibliophile self anything to show off. Empty shelves all around. On the other hand, e-readers are handy for reading out loud too: I’m going to use my Kindle for my next Illicit Ink performance. (December 2nd, 20:00, the Bongo Club. Thank you for asking.)

Of course, I adore books as objects. Their weight, their smell. The different sounds when you flip through a new book – crisp and business-like – or an old one – soft and muted. I like having something in my hand, turning pages looking for nothing in particular, getting ideas and taking notes. Reference books have to be paper, and covered in sticky notes, my own personal index. There’s something particularly lovely about illustrated books. Illustrations look better on paper than on screen: I enjoyed reading Freak Angels on screen but will buy the books to enjoy them properly.

I don’t really care how people read (or consume fiction) as long as they do. When I grew up, we had a black and white television because my mother though colour removed what little creativity and imagination the moving image demanded of you. Words, without images, leave everything to your imagination. Scrawled black marks on a page, or words whispered in your ear, get your brain working, creating images and worlds, guessing what’s coming next.

Other people’s words make us a little richer when we share them.

The glory of pre-proofs

There’s something very special about pre-proofs, the printed (or PDF) examples of what your text looks like laid out and formatted as it will be in the book. It gives me a thrill of excitement, every time. I write my stories in Scrivener, and the output usually looks quite ugly. Standard manuscript format is double-spaced and uses Courier, not the prettiest of typefaces.

But when the text is typeset, with margins, page numbers, my name on the first page, a proper font: golly, the text looks gorgeous. Amazingly, it reads better too. It is a pleasure to read through the words, find characters or punctuation that’s gone wonky and return corrections.

There’s something even better than proofs: the finished book. That’s the most beautiful thing in the world.

I just looked at the proofs for Birlinn’s collection The Seven Wonders of Scotland, out later this year. It looks lovely. (The stories are rather good too.)