12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it



West Port Book Festival 2011

Everyone in Edinburgh loves a book festival.  There was one in Portobello at the weekend and there’s another just around the corner in the Old Town.  Peggy Hughes (who Twitter users might know better as the Scottish Poetry Library’s @ByLeavesWeLive) was kind enough to write me a guest post about it.

The West Port Book Festival has reached the merry maturity of its fourth year, with another programme of cracking collaborations, tall tales, award-winners, stars of the future, dead people, open mics, and of course cakes. This year we’re popping up in October  – Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th to be precise.  We have flirted with running in different months (August for starters and seconds and June for thirds) and find that variety is the spice of life.

We have lost a few of our sterling venues from previous years.  The Lot, the Roxy ArtHouse and the Illicit Still (scene of the cause of a monstrous festival-wide hangover in year 3) are all sorely missed, while the Owl & Lion Gallery has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and resurrected itself as the Owl & Lion Bindery, further up the hill in the West Port. We’ve got a new bookshop on the block in Pulp Fiction and are comforted by the never-changing Blue Blazer and its energy-restoring ham and cheese toasties. Some things change, but the ideas and vision behind the West Port Book Festival remain.

Continue reading “West Port Book Festival 2011”

New Writers Awards 2011/12

Today I was emailed a press release from the Scottish Book Trust saying applications for the New Writers Awards 2011/12 are now open.

Which is just as well, because I’d forgotten all about it even though it’s something I should almost certainly apply for.

The New Writers Awards scheme was started up by Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland in 2008 with the aim of providing 8 unpublished writers with the financial support to let them concentrate on their work for a bit.  Each recipient gets a cash award of £2,000 and nine months working with a professional mentor, which is very exciting and potentially life changing.

Continue reading “New Writers Awards 2011/12”

Poisonous Mushrooms

Cats = Comedy

Lol. This post isn’t really about poisonous mushrooms, that was a cunning ruse to get you attention. It’s really about book 9 and why I’ve been finding it hard to write. I believe it’s a question of genre.

With specific genres, plots tend to come fairly easily once I have a character in mind.  The story grows up around the characterisation and dialogue – probably because those are the bits I like playing with most.  To give you a for instance, when I was doing fantasy in May I was given two character suggestions and knew immediately what I was going to do with them, so I sat and wrote it. 

Humour is not a very specific genre, and to be honest I don’t have a specific character in mind.  My vague plan was to write about the experiences of recent graduates living in the city in a sort of bubbly, chick lit way – Sex and the City but with real people who have real relationships, money issues, terrible flats, identity crises, whatever.  Not just any old real people, but real Scottish people. 

Continue reading “Poisonous Mushrooms”


My life isn’t all about testing new methods of reading, oh no. I have a day job as well, and sometimes I get to forgo my lunch break there in order to attend glitzy media events as part of my freelance journalism career.

I say sometimes, but I actually mean this one time – last Tuesday, as a matter of fact.  The event in question was the official announcement of the shortlisted authors up for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards, organised by the Scottish Book Trust and held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – which is conveniently just up the road from my current temp job.

The Scottish Book Trust are rather wonderful, I have to say.  They get children in every school across Scotland to vote in these awards, and two of the judges who whittled down the long list to the short were school kids themselves.  Precocious ones, at that – I salute you, Lorna and Daniel, for some spectacularly verbose speechifying.  I can only hope I was that erudite at thirteen (I wasn’t).

Oh, and I have to draw attention to the fact that the other judge, Duncan Wright, was voted school librarian of the year 2010.  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but I love the idea.  I wonder if you can nominate librarians after the fact?  Mine is retired now, but still fabulous.  I shall have to look into that.  School librarian lifetime achievement award in the post for S. Webb…

Anyway, the Scottish Book Trust do all sorts of amazing bits and pieces to get kids reading and to support Scottish authors; so having worked with kids and currently being a writer I feel totally justified in waxing sycophantic about them.  Back in my past life as a library person I was an ambassador for their Bookstart Rhymetime sessions (now called Bookbug), which means I have an extensive repertoire of nursery rhymes available to sing at a moment’s notice, not to mention some pretty sweet moves.  This is clearly one of the best life skills I have, although I still have questions about Peter Rabbit’s curly whiskers.*

I went along to this on behalf of The Edinburgh Reporter, and you can read my article about it here.  It borrows a bit from the press release because as I had to go back to work I couldn’t really hang about getting interviews.  As I said before, the world of freelance journalism is tres glamorous.  But with any luck 12 books will make me a literary star and one day freelance-temps will be re-writing press releases about how I was nominated for this award.

Better go do some writing, then…

*animals like rabbits have whiskers to help them measure spaces so they never get stuck – surely a curly whisker is no use for that?

The Great Kindle Challenge: Day 2

from xkcd (

Today I have discovered that the kindle is full of mysteries.  Well, I say full, but that isn’t what I mean.  What happened was I noticed a thing it was doing that I have no idea what it was talking about, and rather than googling it to find out I took photos to show you. Continue reading “The Great Kindle Challenge: Day 2”

Smoke Heads and Pack Men

left: Alan Bissett, right: Doug Johnstone

I first came across Doug Johnstone and Alan Bissett when I worked in the library service.  I happened to start by reading second novels by both of them (The Ossians by Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Bissett), although this wasn’t deliberate and technically The Ossians was Johnstone’s first novel, it just came out second.

At the time I thought maybe I liked these books because I could relate to them; they were about things I recognized.  Johnstone’s book is about a band touring the edges of Scotland, which starts off in Edinburgh – I live in Edinburgh and all my flatmates are in bands.  Meanwhile Bissett’s is about a lad with learning difficulties living in small town Scotland – I grew up in small town Scotland worked for a while with kids who had learning difficulties.  Having read more of their stuff, though, I know I’d have enjoyed them even if they hadn’t happened to appeal so specifically to my experience.  This is because the quality of the writing is high, and because they are both doing something a bit different.

Rather than giving them an event each, the book festival decided to put the two men together last night to chat about their newest books, Smoke Heads (Johnstone) and Pack Men (Bissett).

Continue reading “Smoke Heads and Pack Men”

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