Where to begin

It’s been so long: let’s start with the celebration of my second wedding anniversary. As I write, Mr D and I are ensconced in a converted cinema on the Fife coast, overlooking the Firth of Forth. Through the floor to ceiling window an anthracite sea disappears into a bruised winter sky – below us, the curved beach upon which we ran this morning.

Inspired by our friends B heart-25and B, we’re spending our anniversary flexing our creative muscles in an artists’ studio, away from distractions for a few nights. Mr D sits to my left, hat pulled down over his ears, shoulders hunched in concentration, fingers transforming three years of research into the final write up of his PhD. I try to write but my feet are cold and my eyes return to the sea again and again and again.

This blog is by means of a gentle easing into my next project. The same principle as stretching my hamstrings before a run.

I have news though. On the writing front. Quite a bit as it happens.

The last time I wrote I had completed my manuscript and was preparing to set it free. It took a couple more months before I did so, to one publisher, Freight Books in Glasgow. Four years previously I had listened to Freight’s Adrian Searle talk about the future of books during a panel discussion, after which I had turned to Mr D and told him Adrian was the person I wanted to publish my first novel. No matter that I had neither a manuscript nor even the inkling of one at the time. I would. One day.

indexWhen I sent out my manuscript, I had a wish list of two publishers: Freight was first. I also had a plan. Contrary to advice, solicited or otherwise, I decided to play the long game. Send to Freight, if they said no, send to the second on the list. If both turned me down, then I would lengthen my list and take it from there.

What were the chances, I was asked, that the first publisher you send it to will want to publish it? Even the best authors are rejected many times, I was told, some have even published books of their rejection letters. You should send it to at least a few, I was advised, just in case, not that it isn’t good.

I smiled, took a deep breath and dispatched my manuscript to my first choice. And waited. Two months later, at the end of August, they made me an offer.

If, from this news, you’ve made the assumption that the process was simple, I apologise. It wasn’t, isn’t. I didn’t finish my manuscript in a flurry of brilliance, send it to my preferred publisher and wait to bask in the glory of a publishing deal. Instead, when I was happy that I’d written, proofed and edited as well as I could, I sent it to half a dozen people to look at for comments on cadence, repetition, narrative flow and readability. Half were friends whose opinion I trusted, the other half acquaintances. Next I sent it to two people to edit: a friend whose editing skills I trust (and who isn’t afraid to be critical when necessary) and another much newer friend with relevant editorial experience and little knowledge of me or my story (remember the book is a memoir).

Armed with the collective feedback, I had a good idea of what worked and what needed tweaking. And yet, there was still something niggling me. Every person I’d shown it to knew either me or my story to varying degrees. I needed someone unconnected to me, with no prior knowledge of my story, to give me their unbiased opinion. I found them through a friend of a friend. Only after I received their assessment which, as it turned out, was similar to that of the others, could I conceive of sending the manuscript to Freight.

angela-writingDuring the manuscript ping-pong, I used the time to research my choice of publisher. I’d already read some of their authors but I read others, ones I might not have come to naturally. I noted the style of writing, choked down the panic that rose in my throat at the brilliance of some of the use of language, and read interviews to try and get a feel for the relationship between author and publisher. Through published articles about Freight, I developed an understanding of its ethos and vision.

By the time I sent my manuscript out, I was as prepared as I could be. Despite that, when Freight responded I was stunned and delighted. I still am.

And that’s not all. Mr D and I have also been dabbling in spoken word, as those of you who’ve read my blog will know. We developed a twenty minute performance based on extracts from my manuscript, chosen to reveal my state of mind on different days during my wait for a new heart. Mr D intercut these with guitar music to reflect the tone of the writing. We added an original song, an exchange of dialogue and poetry. The piece began and ended in the same way, with the line ‘the heart that beats within me is not the one I was born with’, spoken over a guitar riff that was passed through a looping pedal and slowed to replicate a heartbeat (the technical stuff is all Mr D).

Inspired by the positive feedback we received after our performances, I applied to the Starter for Ten project at the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) – funding and support to develop new theatre. I knew it was a long shot. I wasn’t chosen but I was told my idea had scored very highly and I was invited to NTS to speak to them.

Last week, Mr D and I visited NTS to discuss my idea and were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and offers of help to realise the project. We now have further meetings with people in the theatre industry to look forward to.

Along the same vein, I also sent my idea to the Tom McGrath Trust Maverick Award. Again, it was a shot in the dark. Again I didn’t win. Again I received an email to let me know I’d been shortlisted, that they liked my idea and offering support.

gin-and-tonicWhere things go from here, who knows. I loved doing the spoken word (or rather I loved it after each performance had ended and I was drinking a large gin and tonic) but my first love is writing and my next novel has been brewing inside me for far too long.

Time to get writing again. Time to hit those keys and type the first letters on a blank screen. Time to begin. Gin and tonic anyone?

Words and Music: A Heady Cocktail

The next instalment of the Aye Write! experience involved a visit to the Highland village Kilmacarra with Karen Campbell (my WoMentoring Project mentor), a conversation about the merits of communism in the former East Germany, a trip to buy hammers with Emily Pankhurst and a peek behind the scenes of a circus in the world after the waters have risen. Mr D and I were moved to tears by a South African poet and writer and delighted to be introduced to a one-eyed dog. We tasted several whiskies (of which I, unsurprisingly, liked the most expensive) and just managed to stay on our seat when Hector Bizerk lived up to his name on the closing night. I also re-lived part of my roller-coaster youth with a member of the Jesus and Mary Chain (all that was missing was L, my brother and a litre of cheap cider).

Barbed Wired KissesWe left Glasgow on Saturday night electrified by the whole experience and drove to Lanarkshire to take a well-known walk with the sun on our faces (thanks E) – in other words, to hang out and make music with the JJs, a collection of friends from around Scotland who get together to share music, food and laughter; the chilled-out antidote to Mr Bizerk.

When we arrived the beat was bouncing along Copperhead Road. We walked into a communal hug and the queasiness of car sickness immediately subsided. For the next few hours I chatted, giggled and sang along, whilst Mr D imbibed the musical moonshine. Around 3.30am, we crashed out in Happy to the sounds of a whistle flirting with an array of stringed instruments and Bankrobber by the Clash, played earlier on a mandolin, still snared behind my left ear.

The following morning we left in sunlight and arrived home in a hail-storm. A brief interlude before returning to Glasgow.

In the midst of all the music and words, another friend had contacted Mr D:

‘We’ve got a couple of spare tickets to Nick Cave, you want to come?’

‘Nick Cave, fancy it?’ I raised my eyebrow. ‘Thought as much.’ And so, on Sunday, we picked up N and A and once again headed into the Glasgow night.

Nick CaveNick Cave strode on stage and divined his audience. A stick-drawn conjurer, he wove words around and through his music. Chaotic guitars, frenetic fiddles and the intermittent toll of a bell, rumbled and rose, crashing into the music fleeing his piano. Theatre, I said. No not theatre, drama, said Mr D, drama in the truest sense of the word. Words tumbled into the crowd, dashing off the lights, tripping over the edge of the stage. Walls expanded to make room for the sound.

Then this.

Nick at the piano. Spot-lit. The opening bars to that song. We’re up in the balcony, as high as is possible to be, with an uninterrupted view.

I don’t believe in an interventionist god

My body becomes air. I am weightless. The words and music intertwine; lift me. Eyes closed, I fall from the balcony into a field of unharvested swaying arms.

And I don’t believe in the existence of angels

Hands suspend me, fingertips skimming my clothes. I am without form.

Into my arms, o lord

Into my arms

On the way home in the car I am all out of superlatives.

Music and words; a heady cocktail from which I went to bed drunk and woke with best hangover I’ve ever had.

Time to Speak Out

Last night Mr D and I, along with a couple of friends, had a night out in the Big McSmoke (or Edinburgh as it’s more commonly referred), to listen to a selection of poets, actors, comedians and musicians take part in the Speakeasy event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Unsure what to expect, we grabbed a drink and headed downstairs to the theatre: what a fantastic night! At £7 a ticket, the event far exceeded the more than reasonable price. Compered by comedian Jo Caulfield, there were six acts, all different and all equally as fun, entertaining and interesting as each other.

Speakeasy_0

At the interval Mr D and I were invited to take part in the next event on the 10th of March, a thought which both excites and terrifies me in equal measure. Add to that one of the other acts being Dave Hook of Stanley Odd and my fear begins to outweigh my excitement. Don’t worry, I’m not doing some kind of pseudo Sonny & Cher duet with Mr D, nor are we acting out our own mini-drama – I’m telling the story of my recent health-related experience through an extract from my Longer Piece of Work (LPoW), and Mr D intends to combine his writing and musical talents in a ‘life on tour’ mash-up (apologies if I’m bastardising the terminology).

Aside from a practice run at university, I’ve never read any of my writing in public, nor have I told my story to strangers. I’ve listened to other writers and storytellers and been in awe of their ability to stand up and put themselves out there. More recently, one of the other members of our MLitt Write-n-Rant Collective, Helen MacKinven, took the plunge, followed by another of my fellow ex-students. Our MLitt tutor, author Paula Morris, often talks at festivals and other events, one of my closest friends is a stand-up comedian, and Mr D and several of his friends perform music in various venues. All these people inspire me. And yet, the thought of doing it myself, seemed beyond my capabilities.

There are various reasons people take to the stage: to promote; to share; for fun (!); for the love of it. I think it’s great that they do so. Nothing beats watching someone talk about the thing they love, nor is anything more moving than someone sharing their life experience. To do it well is a talent not to be under-rated; a joy to behold. To do it badly – yikes!

No-one last night did it badly and that’s what really scares me. What if I go up there and I freeze or worse, I’m boring and no-one is interested? What if I bomb? Wouldn’t that be horrible? Well, no not really. I mean, yes it would be horrible but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I know this because last night I realised that even if someone had forgotten what they were going to say, or been less than inspiring, I would’ve rooted for them anyway just by virtue of them getting up there. The audience at the Speakeasy event weren’t out to get anyone, they weren’t rowdy, they didn’t heckle or boo. For each and every person that spoke, the audience were on their side. What better place to have my performance debut? If I do bomb, Mr D and my amazing friends will be there to pick up the pieces. And hey, there’s always red wine.

For those interested in going to one of the monthly Speakeasy nights, and I strongly recommend it, you can find out more by visiting the Scottish Storytelling Centre website.