Where Stories Begin

Last week saw me running my first afternoon of regular, weekly creative writing sessions at the newly opened Peter Pan Moat Brae, Scotland’s National Centre for Children’s Literature & Storytelling. Which isn’t only for people under a certain age. We all need to free our inner child from time to time, and that’s what my two sessions are all about.

The first, which is at 2pm every Wednesday afternoon, is called What’s Your Story, and is for people who would like to be able to write about an aspect of their own lives. This could be as exciting and dramatic as travelling around the globe on a lawn-mower; or as apparently mundane as bringing up four kids on a cleaner’s wage (like my mother had to once my dad died). I asked them to write about a time they had to do something for the first time, and gave them a sheet of questions to act as prompts. They were free to ignore those questions, but everyone made use of them and I was delighted with the results. My favourite line from the session came from Becky: ‘It’s like trying to get blood from a butterfly.’

View from the Garden Room, where I’m lucky enough to teach.

The second, which runs from 4-6pm, is called The Write Way, and is designed to help with descriptive writing. The format is the same, I give them a sheet of prompting questions, but I also put an object on the table for them to describe:

From my collection of oddities and irresistible.

Once they’d decided what it was, who might own such a thing, where it lives, etc they wrote sumptuous, magical pieces. I say pieces because one participant wrote something akin to abstract art, like a prose poem or a passage from a Neil Gaiman novel, rather than a narrative. I was really impressed by how their imaginations were fired by something that used to hang on my old plum tree in all weathers. It seems true that everyone can write, they just need a little help to loosen their imaginations, and Peter Pan Moat Brae is the perfect place for that.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s sessions…

Writing in a Taxi in Mauritania, Virtually

Now I’m earning a regular wage I’ve been able to buy a new phone. Not brand new, but a year old iPhone 8, quite an upgrade from my old 4s which was apt to randomly switch itself off, and overheated if I tried to use apps such as Instagram. Now I have all the latest apps at my fingertips, so, naturally, I’ve been exploring apps for writers.

So far I’ve got Hanx Writer, but haven’t yet worked out how to use it; Werdsmith, ditto; Unblock, more of which in a sec; Coffivity; and Brainsparker, which I’d forgotten I had until I just looked. But my favourite by far isn’t a writing app at all, it’s a music app called Radiooooo.

As you’ll see from the header image, which is a screenshot taken seconds ago, I’m currently listening to tunes that one might have heard riding in a Mauritanian taxi. Yesterday I was in Mali, and goodness knows where tomorrow will take me. I don’t know why I love this app so much, I only know I do, it has become part of the atmosphere of my writing room. I play it not too loud, so it’s rather like aural wallpaper, and so far I haven’t attempted to write as it plays. But that’s what I’m doing right now, and I don’t think it’s getting in the way.

Yesterday morning I put it on and opened Werdsmith which, every morning at seven, tells me it’s time to write. Until today I’ve ignored it, but having decided I must take myself in hand and focus on writing again I decided to look more closely at it. It appears that to do anything interesting you have to make one, or more, of those irritating ‘in app’ purchases. Unwilling to do that I looked at settings and clicked on ‘Writing Prompts’. This took me to Unblock where I was asked a series of questions* in order to discover what kind of writer I am. What could I do? Reader, I answered them:

Olivetti 82 Diaspron: Giovanni Pintori on Pinterest

Q: What are some topics that interest you?
A: Relationships; understanding; how we communicate; behaviour and motivation.
Q: What are you knowledgable about? What are you expert in?
A: I struggle to say I’m expert in anything, but I know a bit about food; fashion; contemporary art; literature and writing; philosophy; gardening.
Q: What topics are you curious about? What do you want to learn more about?
A: Why people do what they do: why are some people infinitely kind and others utterly selfish? Why do some people insulate themselves and others lay themselves bare? What does the woman who scowls at everyone want? Why do perfectly decent people turn on others? What are we afraid of, and why?
Q: What is something you believe in that most people may not?
A: That eudaimonia (human flourishing) is possible: there is enough for everyone, we just need to learn how to share, and that sharing, rather than hoarding, will result in a better life for everyone, even the super rich.
Q: What do you want to write? A story? A novel? A screenplay?
A: Everything; whatever suits the subject.
Q: What kind of genre do you want to write in?
A: Whichever one suits the subject I’m writing about.
Q: Who are writers that inspire you?
A: Lydia Davis; Amy Hempel; Zadie Smith; Virginia Woolf; Sylvia Plath; Gertrude Stein; Kafka; Proust; Samuel Beckett; Saul Bellow; W.G. Sebald; Alice Munro; Bernard MacLaverty; Frank O’Hara; and so many more.
Q: What is your favourite piece of writing? Why?
A: I’m really interested in the way certain writers use structure and language in a way that adds to the story. I recently read Kafka’s very short story ‘A Visit to the Mine’ and was blown away. How does he do that?! I also can’t get over Proust’s By Way of Swann, as translated by Lydia Davis, because of the clear picture it paints of the place, the family, the man.
Q: What kind of stories do you want to tell?
A: Stories that help us move towards eudaimonia.
Q: Why do you want to write? To tell your story? To make people laugh?
A: Writing’s one half of a conversation for me. I want to engage people, entertain them, and make them think.
Q: How do you want to make your audience feel?
A: Hopeful and bold (free from fear).
Q: When will you make the time to write? First thing in the morning? Just before bed?
A: First thing in the morning.
Q: How long will you spend writing every day?
A: Fifteen minutes on work days; two or three hours on non-work days.
Q: Who can keep you accountable and make sure you stick to your daily ritual?
A: If not me, no one.
Q: Who can read your work and give you feedback?
A: That’s what I want to know!

I assumed that after answering these questions the app would tell me what sort of writer I am, or give some indication, but it all just came to an end. Answering the questions hasn’t given me any further insight into my writing-self, I already know all these things having pondered them endlessly over the years, but it doesn’t hurt to go over them again, I guess. At least it gave me a blog post!

I realise now, too, that I forgot another favourite, Lists for Writers, which I had a great deal of fun with when I first installed it. I’ll write about that in another post.


*The grammar’s appalling, childlike, but I transcribe it here as is.

Ten Minute Post

For the last two and a half months I’ve been working for/with a company that runs conferences. I only do three days a week so I still have four days to work on my writing and other aspects of my practice, in theory. In reality I’ve been finding it difficult to get everything else done in those four days, so blogging has taken a dive. No more weekly writing challenge, no more writer opps Wednesday, no more whatever it is I wrote about on Fridays. And I’m beginning to miss the chat. So I thought, while I eat breakfast, before rushing off to the bathroom to get myself into a presentable state to go to the office, I’d just say hello.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can manage in ten minutes. How do other people manage to do more? How do other people manage to work, some full time, and still write novels? I have a bunch of stories I planned to revise and polish to a shine in order to put out a pamphlet or small collection at the end of the year, but even that’s proving impossible. I even have the prospect of an agent – a writer I met recently liked my writing so much she said if I sent her more stories she’d give them to her agent!!! – but I’ve done bugger all to further that. I need to get my act together, and I think I need your help. Words of encouragement, advice, verbal kicks up the ass…

All welcome.

Header image: a posy Dave bought me at the farmers’ market yesterday. It was our first anniversary last Monday, where has that time gone?

Rational Velvet

I began this post yesterday, and spent all day trying to format it using a flashy editor called Elementor. I use it for constructing pages, but blimey it was a struggle for a blog post, and I inadvertently published before adding all the text and images. I’ve sorted that now, and will have to keep playing with things to get myself comfortable with this newness. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you’ll find the post here, at the new place. It’s about the myth of the scruffy artist, and how I went out for chia seeds and bought a purple velvet jacket. At least it now contains everything I planned for it.

Featured image from Atelier Doré.

Literature Ambassador 2019: Writer Opps #14

It would seem moving websites is rather like moving house, I’m still tripping over boxes, faffing about with paint-charts, and trying to find the right nook for my reading chair. My new site is still rather chaotic, the pages sparsely furnished, and probably not yet ready for visitors. I’m between two (virtual) homes. I lived here for two years rather comfortably, but eventually got fed up with its shortcomings and built myself a swish new place. All very well but it feels rather lonely over there, and I rather miss this old place’s comforting foibles and friendly neighbours. So I thought I’d pop over for a chat, and, while I’m here, share some writer opportunities in the form of my regular Wednesday post:

Christopher Doyle & Co.

Literature Ambassador: Writer Opps: From Lit Mags to Japan

Writer Opps Wednesday aims to bring you six fresh, juicy opportunities each Wednesday. This week we have, 1) a two week residency in Japan for artists of any discipline; 2) an eight week course for artists in Scotland who would like to become full-time freelance creative practitioners; 3) an all expenses paid programme for students (19-25yrs) who’d like to become film critics; 4) a brand new magazine that seems particularly concerned with creative development, and is looking for submissions from students and established writers; 5) A Publisher who Accepts Unsolicited Queries; 6) An invitation from Authors Publish Magazine to pitch articles and ebooks for which they will pay!

Zip over to my new place to see of what those opportunities consist. It would be nice to see you over there as I transition at a snail’s pace.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #13

I’m shifting over to my new site, slowly, so I put this week’s Writer Opps post there. Which is to say, here.

Literature Ambassador: News from Wigtown

Straight from my inbox to you, enjoy!

Spring has arrived in Wigtown!

We’ve got a busy springtime ahead with a variety of events taking place in the coming months. We’ve got interpretive dance for children, the Spring Book Weekend with the Association of Wigtown Booksellers, our ongoing fundraising through our online auction and the annual Writers’ Gathering. See what’s in store for springtime below. 

Adventures of Isabel

17 April | The Print Room | 3.30pm

A critically acclaimed, immersive dance theatre production for children aged 3-10 years. Sit with Isabel in her garden and join her on an epic journey through her imagination. Watch as she faces challenges, confronts her fears and learns about her emerging independence.Book Now

Check Out Our Catalogue

WFC Fundraising Auction

Bidding closes 30 April

The annual WFC Dinner and Auction took place at the start of the month, but if you couldn’t make it don’t worry. You can still place bids on the online lots until the end of the month. Please place bids by email to claire@wigtownbookfestival.com.

Give Voice, Give Stories

4 May | The Print Room | 2pm

For the past five years, storytellers Jean Edmiston and Susie Howie have been working in care homes in Dumfries & Galloway. Join them to hear some favourite stories and experiences gathered through Wigtown Festival Company’s Give Voice project. Folklore, fairy tales, poems, songs and stories of place await.

More Info

More Info

Legacy Letters: Leaving Behind What Matters Most

4 May | The Print Room | 5pm

Never mind the family china, pass on a legacy letter. Share your signature stories, wisdom, love and forgiveness with  future generations. This 90-minute workshop will provide a basic understanding and framework for writing legacy letters as well as the tools and support you need to get started.

Spring Kist

4-5 May | County Buildings | 10am -4pm

Local and national producers and artisans showcase the best of Scotland’s art, craft, food and drink with more than 25 unique stands to browse. The Spring Tearoom offers morning coffee, a light lunch or afternoon teas. 

More info

Writers’ Gathering D&G

11 May | The Print Room | 9.30am-4.30pm

The Writers’ Gathering D&G offers a networking and development event for writers of all skill levels and the chance to have one-on-one sessions with published authors where they can review pieces of your work.  

Tell your friends

Help spread the word about Wigtown Festival Company’s programme of events by forwarding this email to family and friends. Click here to opt in

Wigtown Festival Company principal funders

Principal funders logos

Wigtown Festival Company
11 North Main Street
Dumfries & Galloway

Box office: 01988 403222
Administration: 01988 402036 

Hoping to get back to something like normal service this week, though the likelihood of a story tomorrow is pretty thin Writer Opps Wednesday looks healthy.

Header image: Flickr

Story-A-Week #14: Birthday

This week’s story is a true one. I did begin to write a normal, fictitious one, but found myself too absorbed in the new project I’ve taken on. It involves working on-site with a client, helping them with all the tasks that go into putting on an international medical conference. Last week I was getting the website up to scratch, and I liked the functionality of that site so much that I spent most of Saturday building one for myself.

At the moment it has almost nothing on it, but as a test I dashed out a blog post on it this morning, which is where you’ll find the true story. I expect I’ll eventually transfer everything from here to there, but for now, as I populate it in increments (like building a cake from crumbs), I’ll probably run both in tandem.

It’s my birthday today, so we’re now off to Yorkshire for a few days, I may report from there! X

Literature Ambassador 2019: Writer Opps #12

Writer Opps Wednesday aims to bring you six new opportunities for writers every week. This week we have: a most intriguing call for entries of microfiction; developmental funding for artists who self identify as sharing one or more of the protected characteristics defined by the Equality Act 2010; a survey about arts funding in Scotland which could lead to you directly influencing policy; a call for submissions from an Australian publisher who accepts international submissions; a free e-book on how to get your work published; and a call for submissions on the theme of Detritus. Read on.

Photograph of Leigh Bowery: Kate Garner

Micro Fiction Macchiato

Micro Fiction Macchiato

Deadline: 17 April 2019 at 23:55

Creative project of MLitt Creative Writing University of Glasgow. Call for micro fiction submission.

The project is to get people involved in special reading experience, which participants would be asked to read in dark. As participants re-write one of Edgar Allan Poe’s pieces based on either the original texts, or the already re-written micro fictions (under 30 words/ under 300 words) I created on the website, they have the chance to be included in the online anthology. As part of the submission rules, participants would also be asked to write their micro fictions on used coffee filter papers, photo or scan them while keeping a record in doc./pdf. file. 

The online anthology features adaptations of Poe at the current stage and aims to collect more micro fictions in the future.

Location: All Scotland ,England, Northern Ireland, International

For further information, please contact ewintermacchiato@gmail.com (Franz ), or visit https://www.microfictionmacchiato.com

The deadline is Wednesday 17 April 2019 at 23:55.

I can’t for the life of me work out what Franz is asking for, but I’m going to give it a good go at some point.


Creative Scotland

Deadline: 04 April 2019 at 23:59

This new fund seeks to increase the diversity of people in the arts, screen and creative industries. Developmental funding available for individuals and organisations.

Creative Scotland’s reports ‘Understanding Diversity in the Arts’ and ‘Equality Matters’ highlighted numerous and complex barriers to access, progression and representation in the arts, screen and creative industries.

These reports indicated that career progression is far from a level playing field. Challenges are more acutely felt by women, people with parental responsibilities, disabled people and those from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Lack of connections, social structures and networks also featured highly as a barrier, with many mentioning the importance of informal networks in securing work or getting noticed.

The Equality Analysis of our 2018-21 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFO) programme also highlighted a reduction in the number of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion-led organisations supported through the RFO programme and a reduction in a focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion programming. Additionally, there were no new applications from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion led organisations.

This fund aims to start addressing some of these well documented concerns and increase the diversity of people in the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland.

This fund will seek to prioritise applications from individuals who self–identify as sharing one or more protected characteristics defined by the Equality Act 2010; or from groups/organisations which are either minority-led or which focus on working with and for those who share one or more protected characteristics.

There are no minimum and maximum limits on how much you can apply for, and our intention is to award funding at the levels requested by applicants. We expect to support between 12 and 20 applications, depending on the level of demand, and the Fund has a total budget of £285,000 for 2019/20.

This fund is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland. If you have any objections to receiving funding from this source – for example some applicants do not wish to receive money from sources of gambling – then please tell us and if successful we can arrange for the funding to come from other sources.

Location: All Scotland

For further information, please contact enquiries@creativescotland.com (enquiries@creativescotland.com), or visit https://www.creativescotland.com/funding/funding-programmes/targeted-funding/createinclusion

The deadline is Thursday 04 April 2019 at 23:59.

Literature Alliance Scotland: Survey for Arts Funding Inquiry

Deadline: Thursday 4 April.

Please share your views on the inquiry into the future of funding for the arts in Scotland issued by MSPs on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. The inquiry follows scrutiny undertaken by the Committee last year into Creative Scotland’s handling of the Regular Funding round for 2018-2021. 

Your opinions will be collated to help inform the LAS collective response to this consultation and will be anonymised. All questions are open-ended comments. Please also share this survey with your membership and amongst your networks.

Please see our privacy policy for more information on how we use your data. Thank you!


Image: The Big Head Project

Gypsum Sound Tales is a publishing house based in Sydney, Australia who accepts international submissions, and pays!

Colp is our ‘anything goes’ anthology collection.

Expect to see a little bit of this and a little bit of that within each issue, so feel free to submit stories from any genre.

Current theme: Big

Think big. For this Colp collection we are seeking stories that feature at least one significantly-sized character or component. Your story must include at least one of the following:

a character (main or otherwise) that is physically enormous (tall, wide, both) – think the size of a skyscraper as your starting point

an environmental feature or man-made structure that is equally enormous

giant objects

Go as big as you can, and think outside the box. Please avoid any stories that are retakes on Jack and the Beanstalk, Pacific Rim, Godzilla, King Kong or any other classical/modern story or film.

Colp is for everyone and therefore we are willing to read stories that fall into any genre. So, no matter whether your story is a horror, adventure, romance, sci-fi or historical fiction piece, please send it on through (we’d really love someone to send through a romance, just once…) Be original. We also encourage new and unpublished writers to take the leap and get in touch.

Read more https://www.gypsumsoundtales.com/Submissions.phphttps://www.gypsumsoundtales.com/Submissions.phhttps://www.gypsumsoundtales.com/Submissions.phpp

A free e-book on how to get your work published in lit mags

Submit, Publish, Repeat: 5th Edition

About the Book: This book is the definitive guide to publishing your creative writing in literary journals. This year, we’ve added a section about what to expect after you’ve submitted your work to literary journals.

The book also includes updated lists of publishers, including publishers for new authors, publishers of genre writing, and literary journals that pay their writers.

There is quite a bit more in this book, including a discussion of reading fees, contests, and anthologies.

The book is available, completely free.

from here: http://www.authorspublish.com/submit-publish-repeat/

The Suburban Review 


Waste and decay surrounds and absorbs you. It’s warm, thick, fertile. Breathe in the fetid excess and expose all the crawling, seething life forces. Write into the dark warmth and send us the best of your scum and grot. We want work like a smell so bad you can’t help but want to know what it is. Let your imagination go there, and then submit the spoils to us. We want to read it all.
We allow simultaneous submissions, just email us once
Here’s what we pay:

2000-2500 words—no more than that! (payment $150)

1000-2000 words (payment $100)

500-1000 words (payment $75)

2000-2500 words—no more than that! (payment $150)

1000-2000 words (payment $100)

500-1000 words (payment $75)

Suite of three poems (payment $150)

1 poem over 30 lines (payment $100)

1 poem under 30 lines (payment $75)

4 pages B&W or Colour (payment $200)

2 pages B&W or Colour (payment $100)


That’s Writer Opps Wednesday for this week, now I’m off to see what I can find for next week.

Story-A-Week #13: The Ride

For this week’s story I decided to merge two theories: the first, regards creativity, the second, productivity. Friday arrived, and I had still to even think about a story topic. I knew if I didn’t start that day I wouldn’t get it written, but I wanted to go to Glasgow and pick up a few necessaries, and I knew, also, that I wouldn’t do it when I got back. 

Then I remembered reading somewhere that some writers recommend writing on public transport. Ron Silliman even spent the whole of Labour Day 1976 riding the Bay Area busses and writing a huge, one sentence poem called BART. So I packed my laptop in my bag, and decided to write my story on the bus. Which I did.

Once we were moving I settled down with my bag on my lap and my computer on top of that. It worked brilliantly well, the bag creating a non slip surface of just the right height, and by the time the bus pulled into the station I’d written six-hundred and seventy-six words. 

I didn’t get to look at the story again until Sunday evening, and didn’t hold out much hope of shaping it up for today, but had recently read that playing a single piece of music repeatedly aids concentration. According to Ben Hardy lots of writers recommend it because it creates a kind of distraction proof forcefield as you ‘dissolve’ into the music. How could I resist?! 

I couldn’t, and decided on ‘Lost on You’ by my new hero, LP, for the track. There’s a great site called Listen on Repeat which will repeat any YouTube video you choose until you tell it to stop, I made very good use of it, though I’m not sure I ever quite dissolved. I did do a bit to the story while listening: removed repetitions; sorted out typos (hundreds, that’s one of the bad things about trying to type on a bumpy bus), and took out, or replaced the senseless bits. I also rather drastically changed the ending, and it’s a new sort of ending for me so I wonder if that’s a direct result of the music? Anyway, here the story is, in all it’s unfinished glory.

Amelia’s Ride

Amelia sat on the bus feeling a little too fat for her day’s task: to find an outfit to wear to her daughter’s wedding that her family would approve of, and that she would feel comfortable in. She isn’t the mother of the bride sort, she mused, her favourite clothes are a pair of old cords you might see on a gnarled farmer, a jumper she’s had for over twenty years, and her wellies. There was a time when she could switch between this look and that of the office she ran – tailored trousers, jacket, jaunty blouse, and heels, but these days, having given up that job some time ago, she found heels almost unbearable. The squeezing of her too wide toes, the pressure on the balls of her feet, the general precarity. Her thighs, she feels are now too wide for neat pants, she is no Sofia Coppola, and her bosom too uncontainable for thin material.

She had meant to lose a stone, two would have been wonderful, before having to make this trip, but managed only a few pounds. Her daughters, both, suggested she join a gym, get a personal trainer, take up running, anything, but she failed to do any of those things. Instead, she built a shed and got on with the garden.

Since Jim died she had had to learn to do such things. He had loved the garden, and had a gift for building and fixing; she had been the earner. Now her role was defunct, and he was gone, but she wasn’t defeatist so had taken classes, started a women’s day at the Men’s Shed, and set about becoming more Jim like. The cords she wore were his, and she felt powerful in them. She didn’t think she’d feel powerful in a purple frock and jacket combo with a hat and matching kitten heels. 

On leaving the bus she headed for John’s, her mother-in-law had sworn by their clothes, and she was nearly her age now. She browed the racks of linen shirts and trousers, which she rather liked but suspected Greta would sniff at. Scanned the space for anything that called to her, but felt quite uncalled. In the underwear department a nice woman measured her for bras and brought a selection to try, but they all had padding. She didn’t think she needed any more bulk and asked for something unpadded. They didn’t, the woman told her, stock unpadded bras in such a small size. Amelia wondered at the trend for bulbous breasts, and left without making a purchase.

Her jeans, the least country things she owned, kept sliding down her hips as she walked, she cursed their stretchable nature. She felt herself wobble under her shirt as she walked down the steps of the centre out onto the street, where hoards of stylish couples mocked her with their almost matching sunglasses and loose looped scarves. She scrabbled in her bag for her ancient Ray Bans and wiped the dust off them as best she could.

In a small boutique on the edge of town Amelia burst into tears.

As this post goes live I will be in a new office, learning new things, and hopefully not feeling like I’ve taken on more than I’m capable of. Lots of things I’ve been reading lately, about how to reach your goals and make a living as a writer, say one of the key things is to take yourself out of your comfort zone, and that’s what this is. It’s a new project, and an experiment that isn’t directly related to my practice, but I should learn lots of interesting things. I do hope I don’t let my new contractors down.

Header image: Pinterest.

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