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!

luck-pic

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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.

Edinburgh’s being brilliantly booky

Right now, I’m spending a lot of time circling a new novel, poking it with a whip every now and then, snatching my hand away before it can bite and jumping forward anytime it looks like it might slink away. But when you live somewhere like Edinburgh, there’s always something brilliant and booky going on that’s perfect for distracting yourself with. Ahem, if you let it. It’s all been good stuff though, promise.

Portobello Book Festival LogoFirst, I wrote a bookworm’s guide to Edinburgh and Glasgow for The List, then I showed a lovely Swedish editor for an airline magazine around some of my favourite literary places and if that wasn’t enough, it’s almost time for the Porty Book Fest – a great wee celebration of books at the seaside that I happen to be on the committee for. I’m particularly looking forward to chairing a chat with the fab Jenni Fagan, seeing some of my fellow New Writers Award recipients and hearing Isla Dewar. Ah, it’ll be ace – come and be distracted with me? I heard novels write themselves these days, anyway.

Porty Book Festival: Scottish Book Trust

Portobello Book Festival LogoThis weekend myself and Lucy Ribchester, another Edinburgh writer, will talk with Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust about what winning a New Writer’s Award has done for us. We’re also planning to chat about the challenges of getting your debut novel noticed and published – as well as offering a few tips and words of encouragement! We’ll also be reading from the novels we’re currently working on – cue nerves!

The event is free and takes place at 12.30pm, Sunday 6 October, at Portobello Library. Come along to share your thoughts and questions. The festival is packed with other excellent treats, all free of charge, including an impressive selection of authors discussing Scottish independence later in the afternoon. On the previous Friday, I’ll also be taking part in the gala opening of the festival, which has the theme 1963: The Start of the Modern Era and has lots of readers, live music and even a 60s fashion show. Take a peek at the Porty Programme.

The post book fest blues

The Edinburgh Book Festival is over. The tents have been packed away, the authors and booklovers have dispersed, the grass is starting its slow journey to recovery and all over town there are folks like me wishing we could do the whole thing again.

There’s nothing like being to pop along to Charlotte’s Square Gardens at all times of day and knowing you’ll be guaranteed to bump into someone who is as crazy about books as you are. The atmosphere is always amazing, the bookshop is a delight and chances to see some of the world’s biggest authors discuss their work are never sniffed at.

Me at Unbound. Pic by Chris Scott.

No wonder we tend to feel somewhat deflated when it’s done for another 12 months. This year, I was incredibly happy to see lots of my friends perform at Edinburgh City of Literature’s excellent Story Shop programme and the popular Unbound nights at the book fest Spiegeltent. I even got the chance to read a story for Illicit Ink’s Unbound event myself, which was a fab experience.

Plunged headfirst from the bookish wonder of the festival to the stacks of work abandoned at home, I realised this wasn’t the time to let enthusiasm dwindle, and decided to book a last minute place on an Arvon course at Monaick Mhor. I can’t wait to spend another week luxuriating among words.

A little belated love for introversion

Hiding in plain sight

Who gets ahead? The loudest, the fastest, the best talkers, the dazzling party guests, the fearless? Well, a lot of the time, I’d have to say, yes, those are the kind of people that tend to shine. If you’ve got the gift of the gab, you’re probably more likely to find yourself being promoted, racking up invitations to parties and (I haven’t tested this one) getting laid. No wonder I’ve always been jealous of you.

All those years, forcing myself into group situations, trying to be free and crazy and losing myself the night’s sprawl the way my extroverted friends did. Those were good nights, I enjoyed an awful lot of them, but here’s me only just now getting to grips with the idea that it’s OK not to love being in a big group.

Actually, it’s totally cool to be the kind of person who prefers to hang out one-on-one, and even actually tends to enjoy their own company quite a lot of time. It’s taken a lot of time to get around to thinking that way and this TED talk helped.

It gave a lot of validation to something I’d always assumed was the case but never bothered to seek evidence for – that some people simply feed off group emotions in a positive way, and others don’t.

As it often is, it was actually one of the simplest and most obvious points that really struck a chord – that no one is a true introvert or extrovert, we’re all on a sliding scale. So it’s possible to reconcile the buzz you get from giving a reading or dancing like crazy in a club with the person who would often rather stay at home on the sofa with a book and only some words for company.

I promise I’ll make up for lost time little, neglected inner introvert, and give you plenty of love from now on.

Rolling with the punches freelance style

By nature, I’m a routine driven kind of girl. I’m not saying I can’t deviate from the plans every now and then, but overall I find it easier when I have some idea of what’s coming ahead. I don’t know about you, but if it’s a workday, I want time to get into the mindset, and if it’s a day off, I want to be able to savour the thought of it beforehand. I do not hate a little forward planning now and then (although the big stuff, the life planning stuff, that can take a running jump).

Routine desk style

So the thing about the kind of life I’m leading at the moment, is that it’s not a very forward planning kind of life. Predicting when I’ll need to work and when I won’t is tough, because it’s not controlled by a pay check but is instead at the behest of clients, and we all know the fits of whimsy they are susceptible to.

Then there’s the real reason I gave up a full time job, because I wanted to be available to take chances on and enjoy things I wouldn’t when I was tied to someone else’s hours. While this freedom is wonderful, it goes against my natural inclinations pretty strongly. Sometimes I find myself tussling over how great and experience will be and how much it’s going to disturb my made up routine.

When the sense of adventure wins, it’s more than worth it. The other week, Fin and I went to see two shows on relatively short notice – The Bone Yard and 2401 Narratives which were both grand in very different ways. Then there was an already planned visit to Literary Death Match, a last minute decision to travel through for the always excellent Words Per Minute – all shows well worth re-jigging plans for.

But the thing that got me musing on his topic is really the way my plans have shifted in the last 24 hours – in which I agreed to help set up a short story event, fill in a last minute slot reading at Nights at the Circus tomorrow and attend a fabulous looking scientific creative writing workshop run by the delightful Tania Hershman on Friday morning. All of which I wouldn’t have been able to do this time last year, what a lucky SOB I feel at the moment.

Rolling with the punches might not always be the easiest, but damn does it help you get the best out of freelance life. If you see my whinging about my plans being upset, please do feel free to kick me in the shins.

Hurrah for Love your Library Day

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, too much of an excuse for forced decelerations of the kind of love I’d rather see seeping through in the day to day, so I’m chuffed to bits with the idea of a Feb day to pledge your adoration for libraries instead.

This year, Midlothian libraries are celebrating Love your Library Day on the 4th of February with a program of comedy, readings and gigs, all taking place in local libraries. With support from comedians like Frankie Boyle and Miles Jupp, popular Edinburgh bands and, of course, plenty of authors, it should be a great day to remember how much libraries mean to us all. Check out the Midlothian Libraries’ press release to find out what’s happening in a library near you.

Since deciding to freelance it up, I’ve spent a lot more time in my two local libraries in the last three months than in the 10 years before that, and I am amazed by the big mix of people that seem to spend a lot of time there. Sometimes I have to fight for a seat, once I got told off for accidentally sitting in the area reserved for teenagers and today I witnessed a rather elderly gentleman use the computer to check out the alluring yet badly formatted profiles of some ladies from Asia.

True, we all might get something a little different from our trips to the library, but whether it’s the chance to dream about an alternative and unlikely future or to become submerged in a story about the past, it’s very lucky we have somewhere to do it.

I am especially pleased that this year, I’ll be reading some stories in Penicuik Library along with the lovely ladies from my Leith writer’s group. This is the library my mum works in and the one that my little brothers go to, so it’s one I’m really looking forward to sharing a few words in.

Forget about flowers, chocolates and overpriced tat, show your love for your library with wonderful words and sounds this February.

I’m a freelance writing ninja now, right?

Source: Ian Dawson

It’s that time of year again, when all of my online information streams start creaking under the weight of Nano-related updates. Somehow, despite (or maybe because of) never taking part, the whole thing tends to make me feel a little blue.

Probably because when it comes to fiction, I am a very slow writer, and if I tried to complete 50,000 words in a month, I suspect I’d fail so badly I’d drive myself away from the notebook for a while. Still, when I see so many people hitting their wordcounts and creating something new in such a short space of time, I end up feeling a little jealous and I guess a little guilty too.

And it’s been very much in my mind this month, as it’s my first official month of being freelance – a.k.a that magical time when I will become some for of writing ninja. Needless to say, I have not been writing very much. It’s not that I haven’t been busy though, on the contrary my days have been pretty packed.

Putting together a new site for the Edinburgh Review has taken up lots of time, but I’m really happy we’ve got it up now, and that we’re planning on posting more extracts and excerpts from some of our contributors soon.

I also had the good fortune to take part in two readings this month, the first was for 4’33”, a wonderful audio magazine with lots of short stories for your listening pleasure, it was an excellent night and I was really impressed by the quality of the readers. A big thank you to Mike Wendling who runs the whole site solo and put on the cracking event for no monetary recompense.

Lynsey May reading at Words Per Minute, Photo Neil Douglas Thomas

Photo credit Neil Thomas Douglas (http://www.neilthomasdouglas.com/)

The second reading was at Words Per Minute, where I was again blown away to be included in such a sterling line up, and did very much enjoy getting to be part of their Sex Special. These lovely ladies – Kirsty Logan, Helen Sedgwick and Kirsten Innes, all fab writers themselves – do a grand job of choosing complementary acts and mixing readings with music and film in a way that ensures you’re always engaged.

So, I haven’t exactly been setting my wourdcount on fire, but I;m hoping there’s still time for that. Still almost a third of November left after all. I just have to remember that ninjas tend to get out of bed and get down to business more often than I’d necessarily like.

Portobello and West Port – book festival frenzy

Photo by Sonja Bettina Klein

I love living in Edinburgh, so much so I’ve never really managed to live anywhere else (yet). Sometimes that makes me feel a little ashamed, especially knowing as many fabulous people from around the world as I do, but then times like the last few months roll around and I remember one of the things that’s so great about this city – its festivals.

From the International Book festival in August – where I was thrilled to take part in Story Shop – to the two local and enthusiastic efforts that brighten up a dreary October – The Portobello Book Festival and the West Port Book Festival.

Both of these are run by teams of very friendly and dedicated book lovers, and it’s wonderful to see the support they pick up locally. I’ve been running around so much recently, trying to get organised that I’ve not had time to write about either of these excellent festivals in more detail, but here are a few of my highlights.

  • Giving a talk on paperless Publishing in Portobello Library, where I used to weekly max out my lending capabilities when I was but a kid. I’m also planning on putting up the hand out of useful links I wrote for this, as soon as I have a spare few minutes and the right computer!
  • Speaking to Janice Galloway at the same (I babbled a little, because I do love her work so) and then staying to listen to her in a very entertaining interview later to be on the BBC Book Café – I do recommend you tune in if you spot it.
  • Taking part in a workshop about writing and publishing (also at Porty) featuring Francis Bickmore, Alan Guthrie – who is soon launching new ebook venture Blasted Heath) and Marianne Paget – most useful and inspirational.
  • Reading as part of the Bugged event in Peter Bell Books at the West Port, where I got to read alongside excellent poets Jo Bell, Rob A. MacKenzie and Helen Addy.
  • Managing to squeeze in to see Rachel Boast and J.O. Morgan at West Port despite not having a ticket, and being blown away – you can check out podcasts of them here.
  • Meeting some fabulous writers and book lovers at all of these events, there are few things I like more.
  • So Edinburgh, I’m not sure I’ll ever leave you at this rate – keep the bookish events coming and you’ve probably got me snagged.