A Sixth Sense for Celebration

I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence as far as my Longer Piece of Work is concerned. I hold responsible all the great writers out there, the ones that tuck me up in bed, curl up with me on the couch or help me relax in the bath.

William Trevor, your brilliance at one line character descriptions makes me want to rip out the pages of my notebooks and set them on fire.

laptop and notebookJanice Galloway, stop with the mesmerising ability to weave an extraordinary story from what to others, are unremarkable occurrences in day-to-day life. Likewise, Lorrie Moore.

AL Kennedy, enough with the sharp, witty dialogue that perfectly encapsulates a moment in time – or I fear my laptop will follow the notebooks into the flames.

And I haven’t even mentioned the new writers on the scene: Kirsty Logan, Anneleise Mackintosh, Sara Baum (whose title for her debut novel is one of my most favourite ever: Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither – in relation to the seasons). All writers with that special something that makes a piece of literature glisten and come alive.

Oh and let’s load on the pressure from those that have tutored and mentored me: Paula Morris, shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Competition, and the tutor who whipped me into shape on the MLitt; and Karen Campbell, my mentor through the WoMentoring Project, who prodded and cajoled me into finding a structure and voice for my LPoW. Both dazzling in their eloquence.

And to add insult to injury, at my lowest ebb, a story submitted to a literary magazine didn’t make the cut.

Now do you see my problem? Ok, I know, I know, it’s been said to me many times that the way forward is not to compare my work with others (and it’s not the first time I’ve been rejected). But, come on…

And yet, in general I’ve been pleased with my writing. My LPoW has a structure, several completed chapters and an outline plan for completion. I’ve been writing much more regularly and even had glimpses of the finish line. So why now? Which, I think, is precisely the point. It’s now because I’m close to the end – because I’m approaching the point where I have to let it go and send it out there to fight for a toehold and dig in.

Terrifying!

I realise that by now you more-than-likely think this post it about a plea for reassurance or worse still, a chance to indulge in self-pity. Here’s the good news: it isn’t.

For those of you who read my last blog, you may remember that I ended with a line about receiving good news. Here it is.

A week before Mr D and I rode off on our honeymoon in Happy, I saw the following on the website of Moniack Mhor:

Work In Progress Grant

… the opportunity of a supported place for one unpublished writer with a work in progress. Application process: Please provide us with a sample of your work of up to 750 words and a short summary outlining your work in progress.

‘You should apply,’ said Mr D. So I did.

Moniack MhorOn the first day of our travels, from out of nowhere, it suddenly struck me that I’d won the grant.

‘I think I just won the Moniack Mhor grant,’ I said to Mr D.

‘Really? How do you know? Did you get a text?’

‘No, I just know.’

The first chance I got I checked my emails. Nothing. The next time, nothing. Several times during our honeymoon, on the return journey and back home. Nope. Nothing.

‘I don’t know what happened, I was sure I’d won,’ I said.

The evening after we got back, Mr D was cooking and I was systematically checking through my emails. I noticed one entitled Work In Progress Grant. It was dated two days previously and yet I’m sure it wasn’t there when I looked.

I opened it. Screamed. Mr D dropped the stirring spoon and ran, closely followed by A.

‘What’s wrong? Are you alright? What happened?’ Worried faces stacked up in the living room doorway.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘I won.’ They did and I had.

And so my confidence perked a little, straightened its back, cracked its knuckles and started to make its way homeward.

Moniack Mhor offers creative writing courses throughout the year and comes highly recommended from a host of writers.

If you’d like to read a little more from my LPoW, here’s my submission: The Glass Spider_extract

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.

The Celebratory Living Room Dance

It was Friday night, I’d just returned from an impromptu overnight stay in Glasgow at the Golden Jubilee Hospital (only the best establishments for me) and I was worn out and generally feeling defeated by life. After crumpling into my favourite armchair, I opened up my email inbox, glanced down the messages with little enthusiasm, and paused. And held my breath. And felt the goose-bumps rise on the back of my neck. I did it! My application to the Wo-Mentoring Project had been successful and I was being welcomed by my new mentor Karen Campbell.

Celebratory Living Room DanceI don’t know if it was the news alone, or the fact that I’d received 3 pints of blood (rocket fuel as referred to by the nurses) but I was on my feet, grin plastered across my face and arms thrown to the sky; otherwise known as doing the Celebratory Living Room Dance. Mr D cheered me on and sang an upbeat version of a song – the tune familiar but the words unlikely.

There it was. The first milestone on my writing journey. The first tick on my writing to-do list.

This Is Where I AmFor those of you who don’t know Karen’s work, I highly recommend it. Her last novel, This Is Where I Am, looks at the realities of life as a refugee in Glasgow, alongside the loneliness and quiet despair of a Glaswegian widow and the friendship that develops when they’re brought together via a mentoring programme.

My hope is that Karen will be able to help me work on a longer piece of writing (notice how I tiptoed around the ‘n’ word) based on my recent experience ‘on the list’ for a heart transplant; a write-what-you-know approach for my first attempt.

The writing journey is often a solitary one, which for me, makes it even more important to grab opportunities to work with other writers. I’m already privileged in that I completed my MLitt at the University of Stirling with a group of extraordinary and talented people (heretofore known as the Write-n-Rant Collective) with whom I’ve remained in touch. Under the tutelage of author Paula Morris our group blossomed from students into fledgling writers and since graduation we’ve celebrated our successes and commiserated our near-misses. When you’re walking a long road, there’s nothing better than having a support group to cheer you on, and pick you up when you fall.

In the meantime, I’m recuperating from my latest bout of hospital food by sitting at the keyboard, working up the sketch of the first two chapters of my LPoW for discussion at the first meeting with my mentor. Watch these fingers fly!