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.)

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.

Status update: you have to do the work to meet the goals. Bugger.

The thing with plans is that you’re supposed to hold yourself to them. That’s rather a joyous thing, when everything’s going according to, but when things aren’t quite, well, a plan can turn into a measuring stick against which you come up short. About the time it was time for me to take stock again, I realised I wasn’t quite meeting my goals. You can only procrastinate for so long, so here’s my almost quarterly progress support.

  • Send out one new story per month: nope. Not done that. I’ve written one per month, but I haven’t been very good at sending them out. I’m getting better at completing stories (editing) but I need to spend much more time finding markets.
  • Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress. Finding markets is quite time-consuming (see above) and I need to spend more time on that task.
  • Finish plotting novel: in progress. I still need to figure out a couple of details about the end, but I’m happy doing that as I go along.
  • Write novel: started. I’m behind but not by much and might still be done with the first draft for Christmas.
  • Do four spoken performances: my fourth reading will be at the launch of The Seven Wonders of Scotland, the fifth and final this year takes place on December 2nd, at The Bongo Club, from 20:00. It’ll be fab: the theme is the ocean. My story’s about corals. Sort of.
  • Make £75 from writing: done. With change. I’m going to double this goal for next year. Who says there’s no money in fiction?
  • Get four stories published: three down, one to go. Not looking likely at this juncture. And I know why: I haven’t sent enough stories out. if you don’t send, you don’t get accepted. Send, send, send. Keep punting that writing.

The next update will be in January, with a new set of goals for the year.

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.


Illicit Ink: Invisible Ink, tales of espionage

Invisible Ink, The Bongo Club, July 1st, 2012
Invisible Ink, The Bongo Club, July 1st, 2012. Be there or never hear the end of it.

Did I mention I’d signed up for reading at another Illicit Ink event? Only once? It’s due a second mention, then.

This event’s called Invisible Ink and is on this weekend (Sunday, July 1st). You should go. Everyone should. Because it will be awesome.

I wrote two stories for this event but can only read one. The one we’ve chosen is set in Whitby and is towards the sweet end of things as stories go. The other story, which needs a little more work, I have a market in mind for but we’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to keep it sharp and flash but need to cut some words in order to add others that make us care about the main character.

Never mind that, this is where to go on Sunday

Go to the Invisible Ink Facebook page and tell the world you’re going. Then get your friends to come too. That’s what social media’s all about so go be social. (Yeah, baby, yeah?)

If my reading isn’t enough to tempt you – and I’d understand if it isn’t – know that Scotland Tonight’s David Marsland is comparing and Alan Bisset is performing. All this, chocolate cigars and no entrance fee!

The Bongo Club, July 1st, 2012, doors open 19:30.
Moray House, 37 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

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The Wolf at the Door is on Flashes in the Dark from today

If you’ve come to this post from Flashes in the Dark, welcome! Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoyed the story. (For those of you who came from somewhere else: I have a story – The Wolf at the Door – on Flashes in the Dark, an online horror flash fiction site, today.)

There are a few more stories on this website, shorts that I wrote last year:

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Later this year, you can also read me in New Writing Scotland 30 where I have a story, Foundling, about a woman who finds a lost little girl on her way to work on morning.

If you’re in Edinburgh, UK, or nearby, you can occasionally see me read at Illicit Ink and at other events. You can find out more about where I’ll be on the Events page. (Check out Edinburgh City of Literature if you’re interested in readings and other literary events. There are always things on.)

Acceptance #2

On Saturday, I had a second acceptance. This wasn’t for a paying market, but I’m still very pleased. Martin is, in his short form, finally getting published somewhere. On May 25th, The Wolf at the Door, the short version of Liz & Bob that I read at Illicit Ink last year, will appear on Flashes in the Dark. Flashes in the Dark is a flash fiction site that serves up a daily morsel of horror.

I’m pleased that someone liked my story enough to share it with their readers but I’m also pleased that I found out just in time to add it to my list of publications before submitting a story for Story Shop.

Story Shop is part of the plan. I’m hoping (fingers crossed, wood knocked on, superstitions engaged) that they’ll take my story so I get to read at Edinburgh International Book Festival. It would be the coolest thing ever.

Outer space comes to Edinburgh

Back in October, I did my first public reading at an Illicit Ink event called Monsters Ink. It was good fun and having practiced public reading in Penicuik I’m back for more. At the next event, on March 4th, I’ll be reading a story I wrote for the event. It’s a short story – with 7 minutes running time it can’t be more than about 1,200 words – about a boy and his rocket. Sort of. The theme of the evening is outer space and the event is called When Words Collide.

It’s a good night with a good mix of story tellers, some of which turn up in character. But not me. Oh no, not me.

When and where: The Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, 20:00 – 22:00. (Map below.)

What: short-story readings from a dozen or so local writer, reading their own stories about outer space.

That’s all I have planned for this quarter. If I sign up to any other spoken word events I’ll post them on the Events page.

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