The Attenuation of Luck: Fun Palaces

fun-palacesMy excellent medical physicist friend Mandy Price came across Fun Palaces (a celebration of science and art run by Co-Directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings with the ethos: Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist) and got in touch with me to see if I fancied collaborating on a very short piece of fiction for their #WriteScience competition. I did! We chatted about her job (she helps maintain the right balance between image quality and radiation dose for examinations using ionising radiation) and x-rays in general, threw around some ideas and came up with the short story we’ve got here – which the lovely judges chose as one of their favourites.

This weekend, you’ll find Fun Palaces all over the country with all kind of exciting events for people of all ages. Mandy will be doing cool x-ray things at Brockwell Lido in Tooting, I’ll be sharing some stories in Leith and there are hundreds more to choose from – find a Fun Palace near you.

Because Mandy is a clever one, she also made some snazzy postcards with her own x-ray art on the front. We’ll be handing these out but you can also see a wee copy below or listen to me reading it online!

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Gutter Spoken Word: The Greatest Magician

Contributing to Gutter’s spoken word issue (which is all about celebrating words off the page as well as on them) has made me wonder how I got from crowd-avoider to (fairly) confident reader.

There was a very, very brief moment in my teenage years when I thought I might like to be an actor. I was probably about fourteen. There was something very appealing, then, about the feeling of being someone other, someone bigger, on the stage. I quickly realised that there was a massive difference between doing well in your drama standard grades and actually working and let that dream drift safely away. I wasn’t destined to be on stage and that was fine.

Except, many years later, when I started to take writing seriously, I found there was this whole other side to it: the spoken word. This side tends to take place, you guessed it, on a stage. Or at least, in small space cleared among a motley collection of bar stools. Microphone optional, position as the centre of attention required.

Up until that point, I’d assumed writing was writing, other people would take care of the reading. Then I started paying more attention to those author events and lit nights and realised that reading your own work aloud is a skill. One I was lacking.

So I worked and I shook and I sweated and I fumbled with microphones and heard my voice rise to an unholy pitch and depended on kind audiences to forgive me my nerves until, eventually, I found I was really enjoying myself. To my relief, I’d discovered that reading stories to people isn’t the same as standing up in front of them and talking about yourself. It’s got a lot more in common with those heady, teenage moments when it was possible to step outside a bubble of embarrassment and be someone else for a while.

For Gutter, I read a story written to be read aloud. I originally wrote it for Illicit Ink’s Unbound slot at the EIBF, when I read it to a tent full of nice, bookish people. This time, I read it into my little brother’s microphone (thanks, Evan) and had to magic up an imaginary audience for myself. And you know, whether in the room with you or just there in your head, there’s nothing like an audience for conjuring up a touch of magic.

The freedom of freelancing and Cove Park adventures

The life of a freelancer is, by nature, a little on the precarious side. When I left the safety of my full time, management/digital content job, I worried I was going to find the whole process of finding and juggling work scared me witless.

Luckily, by and large, it hasn’t. Even when things have occasionally felt hairy, something has come up (often at the very last minute) to keep my bank account in the black and my nails from being chewed down to the quick.

A lot of the time I work from home, sometimes I pop into an office for a concentrated couple of weeks and occasionally I take on a longer contract and spend a few days a month working in-house. It can all feel a little haphazard and I’ve had to get a lot better at managing my calendar in recent years.

On the bright side, swapping projects, clients and even locations means that I rarely get that deep, ingrained boredom that dampens down my desire to be creative. Precariousness has its benefits!

exterior21-500x234Holding your nerve until the right bit of work comes up isn’t always fun, but occasionally a nice reward for your unpredictable existence comes your way – and I’m lucky enough to have just had one of those show up. This summer I’ll be spending a month at Cove Park, thanks to their 2016 Emerging Scottish Writer Residency.

And, thanks to the fact the only boss I’ve got to beg for time off is myself, tootling off to the countryside for some serious writing time should be a doddle.

Winter survival for the freelance writer

Frozen, demoralised and contemplating ‘leaving the house’? Try these instead.

coffee2Achieve hot drink harmony

Carefully weigh up the cosy-finger benefits of a cup of coffee or tea against the frigidity of your bathroom. Constant, cold pee breaks will quickly undermine the warming factor of frequent hot drinks. What coffee giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other.

Waste no available sources

Got an old laptop that struggles to stay cool under pressure? Watch a few videos and wait for the base to heat up. Be sure to lie down and place laptop on trunk for maximum efficiency. If printing large documents on an ink jet printer, hold the collated pages to chest for residual warmth.

cape
Buy a cape/blanket/poncho

Normal clothes are not enough for workers as stationary and sedentary as you. Layers are your friend. Also useful for concealing pyjamas, three day old stains etc. Running around pretending that you are Dracula is optional, but useful for generating body heat which can then be trapped be aforementioned layers.

Have a shower

When core temperature drops significantly and the mouse-clicking fingers start to feel like bunch of frozen baby carrots taped to a stone, have a hot shower. Also useful for avoiding emails and providing a legitimate excuse for not writing. Should be used sparingly due to high electricity costs.

Burn your failures

Bills, rejected copy, that novel you’ve been writing for most of your adult life – all can be valuable resources when the winter chill hits. An open fireplace or wood burning stove is preferable. Not only can you enjoy sitting in front of a cracking flame, the burning of failures provides that all important inner glow.

Milk and Honey: Story and song

My younger brother Evan released an EP last week and among the tracks I found one called Milk and Honey – a title I happened to use for a flash a few years ago. Despite the fact they were written independent of each other, I think they’re quite complementary so (with his permission) here they are!

 

Milk and Honey

Marianne was in her early thirties when she forgot how to eat. It was a gradual process, almost imperceptible, but few things stay secret for long. Eventually her friends began to notice the way muffins crumbled between her fingers, soup cooled in its bowl and bread sat on its side-plate, unbitten. She complained about the taste, the sweetness. They laughed and told her it came to all women. It was normal. She didn’t have to worry about it.

An easy medium from her teens on, Marianne had never been a dieter. She’d dabbled with weight loss at highschool, when they all swapped diets plans as though they were stickers, but on leaving she’d laughed, shrugged them all off and made her friends jealous. She’d have extra chips, a dark beer and definitely a dessert. She used to enjoy them.

Marianne was a bystander to the pile-up, but only by two small steps.

If she hadn’t found a blackened banana in her bag and stepped back onto the curb, her hand reaching for the bin, she’d have been part of it.

A whole family killed instantly. The lorry driver held on for a few days in intensive care. A third driver, who was behind the concertina-ed family car, seemed to escape with only broken legs, but undetected internal bleeding took care of him.

Not Marianne though, not a scratch on her.

She spoke to the policeman then walked away to meet her date. He used the crash as an excuse to put his arm around her. Her stomach was empty, her banana in a bin behind a police cordon. Her date bought drinks and dinner. She tried but didn’t want them, and asked him not to call her again.

The next day, Marianne rang her mother and heard her doing the sign of the cross over the phone. There but for the grace of god. She told a few friends, but they hugged her and said she was lucky. Marianne decided not to tell anyone else.

She was the last person to notice she wasn’t eating. It’s not that she didn’t want to, it’s just that she’d forgotten how she was meant to do it. Everything she put in her mouth was sweet and cloying, and the thought she’d once known how to chew and swallow seemed impossible.

At night, she dreamed about her days – boxes of filing, queues at the shops – but during the day her thoughts meandered to the barely-glimpsed faces of the family in the car, the bliss she saw as they passed away.

Something had gone wrong. The family, the other drivers, the dead people, they were where they were meant to be. But not Marianne.

She daydreamed empty-mouthed through the day, waiting until the wrong was righted. Her friends started to worry, her mother called daily, but Marianne knew it didn’t matter that she’d forgotten how to eat; she’d been given a taste of the land of milk and honey.

When blogging becomes the day job…

…people like me get far lazier when it comes to updating their own blog!

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that more and more of my clients are looking for blogs and articles as opposed to webcopy, which is a-ok with me most of the time because it means I get to mix up topics and cover current events much more often.

That said, it does kind of kill the urge to post about my own bits and pieces. Combine that with my Twitter addiction and the way it satisfying the sharing urge and, well, this is what you get.

This place might’ve been a little on the quiet side but I have been blogging away loads recently and while most are ghostwritten, there’s a few booky ones I wanted to keep a note of.

ni_no_kuni_book_-_blog-edit(e)Reading the future

RPGs: Playing the reading game

Reimagining Classic Books as Comics

Why books make the best presents

So, I tip my hat at everyone able to keep their own blog fat and well fed while whipping up posts for paying customers. I should take a page from their recipe books, huh?

 

Detoxing: Book festivals, events and fun

IMG_2021The last time I posted, I was fresh back from a month in France with nothing to do but write. What a world apart from the last few months, where I’ve been scurrying around from one thing to the next, trying to squeeze in a few minutes of scribbling time here and there.

The weekend just past, I was wearing my organiser badge for Portobello Book Festival – a wonderful, warm local festival that attracts all sorts of writers, readers and interested folk. There was a lot of running around as usual, but all came together in the end and the committee was as hard working and passionate as always.

IMG_2018I was especially pleased that my mum’s book folding workshop went well and that the two events I was chairing (Peter Pan The Graphic Novel with Stref and Fin Cramb and Daring Debuts with Lucy Ribchester and Catherine Simpson – all of whom were a total pleasure to chair) were as great as I hoped.

IMG_2027Just as I was recovering from the fun of the festival, it was time for the launch of the Book Week Scotland programme – I’ve been helping out with the event listings over the last few months, in a freelance role for Scottish Book Trust – and there are just so many fantastic events taking place all over Scotland.

Living where I do, I’m totally spoilt for choice when it comes to readings, signings and bookish events but they obviously aren’t quite so thick on the ground in more remote areas, so it’s awesome to see libraries, councils and bookshops coming together to celebrate reading in all kinds of ways!

I’ve also been super happy this month to get my hands on contributor copies of two different books/journals – I Am Because You Are, an anthology of stories inspired by General Relatively edited by Tania Hershman and Pippa Goldschmidt and Banshee Lit, a fab new Irish Journal.

Today, my mind is reeling and still packed with information about other people’s books, ideas and words – it’s time to have a mini detox so I can catch up where I left off, and hope it’s easy to slip back into the imaginary world I left behind!

RLS Fellowship: A retreat is a better than rest

DSC01698As far as I can tell, writers are pretty bad at taking holidays. You’re either working or you’re writing and often those two things are one and the same, but it’s not the kind of work it’s easy to shut the office door on. Wherever you are, there’s a little voice in the back of your said squeaking ‘this is all very nice, but shouldn’t you be writing?’ And maybe you should. On the other hand, sometimes you have to have some actual real world experiences, if only to generate new things to write about.

For the last year and a half, all my self-organised trips were short writing breaks. I went for a day or two at a time and each was great but not the same as an actual rest, so when I found out I’d been awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship through Scottish Book Trust and was off to spend the whole of June in Grez-sur-Loing, France, I was both incredibly stoked and a little bit nervous. Would I produce enough work while I was there? Would I find that a long-dreamed-for month of writing time was better in my imagination than in reality? Would I go crazy?

DSC01960Happily, I stayed pretty sane (no thanks to the mosquitos who all thought I was the best thing since sliced bread – a loaf of Mother’s Pride, no doubt – and thanks in part to the other artists at the hotel) and managed to write a bunch, even though the first few days were largely taken up with feeling weird and wondering what I was mean to be doing. In the end, I decided I was meant to be eating lots of poire amades, exploring the area in a very low key way and just thinking about things.

It was very inspiring to stay in a hotel so beloved by generations of artists and writers and the building and its grounds are so charming I felt like I’d stepped into another life. One of the best parts was the fact that I was away for so long, which meant that even though I was researching and thinking and writing, it actually did feel a little bit like a holiday too. I’m getting the feeling I prefer the working kind anyway.

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Writing Without a Goal

Most days, I sit down and I write copy for one client or another. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s incredibly dry and other times it’s frustratingly vague, but all client work has something in common – a very clear objective and a defined finish line to cross. The work is done when it meets the criteria agreed in the brief and the client is happy with it. So far, so satisfying.

And then, later on in the day, I’m likely to be sitting down for a second time and writing something that just doesn’t have the same kind of clear cut boundaries. I’ll be switching to the fiction part of the day and unless it’s a commissioned story or I’m writing for a themed event, THERE ARE NO RULES. The only objectives are the ones I made myself and the client is, well, anyone I can persuade to read the results. So far, so woolly!

There’s something very freeing about knowing you can write about absolutely anything you want, but it can also be kind of unnerving. Especially if you get stuck thinking that every piece of writing should have a specific end point and a worth measured by a client or reader’s satisfaction.

Once you start putting on that kind of pressure, you can end up feeling as though writing your own stuff is the very opposite of freeing.

If I'm really stuck, I might actually sketch instead!

If I’m really stuck, I might actually sketch instead!

In fact, it’s almost paralysing, because to be honest, not everything you write should be seen be someone else. Sometimes, you should be writing just to try something out, to get a random idea out your head or even to fail so that you can get it right next time.

Think of that writing you do that might not end up in a novel or as its own, perfectly formed short story as just another page in your artist’s sketchbook. Just like painters, everything you do has merit, even if the result is nothing you’d want to hang on the wall. Let yourself write without a goal and just when you’re doodling and scribbling away at something just for the fun of it, there’s a good chance you’ll hit on an idea you want to take forward after all.

Summer writing: RLS Fellowship

RLSThis summer, I’m scooting off to the south of France to do nothing but write, read and think for an entire month. This incredible luxury has been offered courtesy of the RLS Fellowship in association with Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland, an excellent endeavour that’s been sending Scottish writers to the Hôtel Chevillon International Arts Centre at Grez-sur-Loing (where Robert Louis Stevenson spent some inspiring months) for the last 20 years – including many that I really admire and a few I’m lucky enough to call friends.

I’m off in June (this year’s other writers, Alan McKendrick, Michael Pedersen and Malachy Tallack, will be travelling at different times) and I can’t wait. The longest retreat I’ve ever been on was for a week and I normally only go for two or three days at a time, so a whole month will be just amazing. Here’s hoping my atrocious French doesn’t cause too much embarrassment. Luckily, bread, cheese, coffee and apples are all nice and easy to remember – and say – so I should survive.