Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #10

Writer Opps Wednesday’s Pah Dah...!

Scotland’s International Poetry Prize, open to all Based in Scotland’s National Book Town, for over a decade Wigtown Poetry Competition has become one of the UK’s best established writing prizes and a launchpad for many writers’ careers. Refreshed and rebranded in 2019, Wigtown Poetry Prize welcomes entries from poets writing in English wherever they may live. Separate categories celebrate the best of Scottish Gaelic and Scots language poetry, a special category acknowledges a rising talent in Dumfries & Galloway, and a new pamphlet prize is named in memory of Alastair Reid – local poet and one of Scotland’s foremost literary figures. The competition closes on 7 June 2019, with a prize-giving at Wigtown Book Festival in the autumn. We hope to see you there

For the rest go here.

Enter your film to The Skinny’s new short film showcase

We want to celebrate the best of Scotland’s emerging filmmaking talent, so we’re launching The CineSkinny on Tour. We’re looking for short films to be part of this new showcase; to enter your short film, read on…

If you have a short film (15 minutes max) you made in Scotland with a Scottish team, why not apply? Closing date 13 April.

Joan Miró: Metamorphosis, 1936


Southlight magazine celebrates changing with an on-line one month long publication as part of Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing. Send us your short porse, poetry, book or film reviews, photographs, art-work about profound changes in life histories from one stage to the next. Think pupa to butterfly; grape to wine; yeast and wheat to bread; selkies; Kafka’s beetle; Woolf’s Orlando; Greek myths.

Email your contributions as MS Word or Rich Text Format – jpegs for images – with your name in the file title – to

And if inspiration doesn’t strike visit our Facebook page for daily prompts from April 31.

It’s just possible that you have been invited to speak about your book in another country, but can’t afford to get there. If that is so, and you live in Scotland, this should be just what you need:


Scottish Books International works on behalf of the literature sector in Scotland and is dedicated to the international promotion of books, writers, festivals and organisations.


This fund has been established by Scottish Books International to support writers who have been invited overseas to promote their work.

The types of things that this fund will support include:

•Invitations to be part of an event at a literary festival or literature or cultural organisation.

•Trips for publicity events to support publication of a work.

•Invitations for authors to present their work as part of trade fairs or conferences.

•Invitations to a residency or creative exchange overseas, where support for travel costs is required. Support for fees or ongoing expenses as part of residency opportunities can not be supported due to the limits of the fund.

There is of course much more on this on the Scottish Books International website.

Lastly I found this great blog for women writers, it has tons of competitions and whatnot for us gals, why not pour a glass of something and go over and take a look?

Header image: Biagio Cepollaro. Found here.

Story-a-Week #11: An Attempt at Plotting in Advance

If you’re a writer you’ll be familiar with the question, ‘are you a plotter or a pantser?’ A pantser being someone who writes before looking at such structural things as pace, arc, motifs, etc. A plotter being someone who creates a structure then writes a story/novel/whatever to fit. I’m a pantser, I create a nominal structure after the first draft, to suit the story, rather than the other way round. When I begin to write a story I never know how it’s going to end, it’s almost as if the story tells itself to me, and I try and get it down as best I can. This does mean a great deal of redrafting as I work out the details, which can be a bit of a pain, and I admire writers who have everything worked out from the start, and don’t have to redraft at all. Zadie Smith is one such writer, apparently, which has made me rethink. I’ve always thought plotting in advance was a bit odd, something for writers of genre fiction only, but Smith is a writer of literary fiction, which is what I aspire to. I began to wonder if building the cathedral before installing the vicar and instructing the choir might be worth a try. So I decided to give it a go with this week’s story.

Having let things slip while teaching Café Stories, I wanted to return to Ray Bradbury’s formula for the story-a-week challenge:

Monday: decide on a subject, and write an outline.

Tuesday: write the opening scene.

Wednesday: write the second scene, up to and including the climax.

Thursday: write last scene: resolution.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday: edit.

Monday: publish.

I decided to do an outline, on Monday, using a narrative arc diagram (I love messing about with diagrams), so once I’d decided on a subject – an anniversary lunch – I opened Scapple, and made this:

On Tuesday I wrote a rough draft. Which means I kind of failed at the second hurdle, I was meant to write only the opening scene. But, as you’ll see, this story starts in the middle of the action, any exposition is woven into that, so the opening scene is the main scene: the action is already rising. I could have stopped at the climax, but as only a couple of lines follow it it seemed mad to do that. Anyway, here it is:

He slams his menu shut, ‘I’ll have the soup; fishcakes to follow’. Shit, I haven’t even looked past the salads. I’m not hungry enough for three courses, he won’t want pudding, but it’s my favourite part. I could have a starter and a pudding…

‘Waiter!’ he waives his right arm in the direction of the bar, ‘come on Pru, I’m starving.’

I’m not even quite sure why we’re here, it’s our fifteenth wedding anniversary, but he went to work as usual this morning. We tend to do this sort of thing at the weekend, when we do it at all, so I wasn’t prepared for him to walk back in at midday to tell me he’d booked a table for lunch, and here of all places. I had to throw myself in the shower, and blast my hair dry while looking for a not too crumpled shirt, as he wandered about downstairs. Who gives someone half an hour’s notice to get ready for a lunch date? I know, most people would have been showered by noon, but there have to be some advantages to not having my own studio, and working in a shed at the bottom of the garden. The waiter!

‘Cock-a-leekie and fishcakes, no chips, just a salad. And we’ll have a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse.’ He looks at me, ‘Pru?’

‘Um…’ Did I see… no. ‘Could I just have…’

‘Why don’t you have the Bruschetta, and then sea bass?’

Because I don’t want that much, I don’t say. I notice the drizzle we left outside has been usurped by rain of the flashing-blade kind, someone turns the lights up a notch, I wish the radiator beside me was on.

‘I’ll have the, ah…’ I look at the waiter, Stuart sighs and starts playing with the cutlery. Thunder claps outside like a displeased god.

‘I can recommend the new chef’s Caesar salad,’ the boy says, he is a boy, not much older than Katie, ‘that will leave plenty of room for the pear and chocolate torte, which you really can’t deny yourself.’

Pear and chocolate torte?

‘Thank you,’ I say, ‘how can I resist.’

He takes the menus and the big, red-wine glasses, ‘I’ll get your wine.’

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday ended up being taken up by other things. To an extent I allowed myself to be distracted, I reckon, because I felt a bit stifled by the outline. Knowing what happens in a story before I write it is going to take a bit of getting used to. At the moment if feels like it spoils the fun. However, I forced myself to get back to it on Sunday when I realised it didn’t work, and decided to examine the pacing, with another diagram:

This looks almost inconsequentially simple, but the mere act of making it has helped enormously. Firstly it shows me I need to expand, and build much more tension in, the exchange between the couple regarding his wanting her to hurry up and choose, and her wanting to be able to take her time. It shows me, too, I need to weave the backstory in here with a lighter touch, at the moment it’s a bit of an information dump which holds the action up. Looking at the pacing in this defined way also gave me the title, and a new ending. It is fascinating how looking through a new lens can reveal things with such ease. I probably would have come to all these conclusions anyway, but more slowly.

What know now is that the whole thing needs to be rewritten. Possibly as a play rather than a short story, which could mean I never look at it again. Though it may mean it will sit on the back burner for years, and one day I’ll stumble on it and know what to do. Meanwhile, it’s Monday again and I have to think of a new subject, and write an outline for that. Crikey!

Header image (of my worst restaurant nightmare): Coco Kelley

Avoiding Avoidance

I’m on a mission to earn a living from my practice, so I’ve been testing Benjamin Hardy’s 30 Behaviours to Make You Unstoppable in 2019, and this week I examine my potential for reaching that goal by looking at Behaviour #12. 

12. Less * “Avoidance-Behaviors”

‘In psychology, there are two core forms of behavior — avoidance or approach.

Avoidance-behaviors are where you’re putting energy toward avoiding something from happening. Avoidance-behaviors are generally focused on risks, rather than the potential for growth…

And approach-orientation toward life doesn’t mean you’re a reckless risk-taker. What it means is that you are willing to courageously face risks to accomplish meaningful and important goals.’

I assume here he’s telling me I should avoid avoidance behaviours and, instead, boldly advance toward my goal without letting any risks put me off. What risks might I be avoiding? 

Ironically, I’ve put rather a lot of effort into avoiding writing this post. I went off at a weird tangent and read screeds on self-efficacy and congruence; I faffed about creating a new project file for an e-book I suddenly had to pull together; and I’ve literally just, this second, forced myself to stop designing posters for a Making Ends Meet project I seem to have got involved in.

Does this mean I feel there is some sort of risk involved in writing this post? Maybe I just can’t be bothered? Maybe I’m bored with writing about myself, or with the sound of my own voice? Or maybe it is something to do with self-efficacy?

Image: Wings View at Home

It’s odd how life brings you back to things. I read Carl Rogers for my undergrad dissertation – which began as an enquiry into the existence of the self, and ended as a love song to Nietzsche – and though I liked his accessible style, and absorbing arguments, I haven’t looked at him since. I still have the books though. Anyway, I was pondering Hardy’s proposal, trying to make something of it and failing, when an email came in from him on Confidence and Avoidance that sent me on a wonky path that began with Albert Bandura and ended with Carl Rogers. It was like meeting an old friend in a strange city full of half lit passages and dead ends.

‘Carl!’ I cried, ‘Just the person I need, I’ll buy you lunch if you promise to explain self-congruency to me.’

And so I found myself in a shabby taverna, drinking cheap wine from a semi-opaque carafe, listening to a master. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I need, briefly, to go back to that email from Hardy. 

It was entitled ‘Confidence and Avoidance’ and, in it, Hardy gives a personal anecdote about avoiding finishing his PhD, and goes on to explain that this was due to lack of confidence and congruency. Confidence, he says, 

‘is the byproduct of prior performance. In other words, confidence must be earned. Your confidence is the emotional evidence of what you’ve done and where you’re currently at.’

Hardy is simplifying to the point of opacity here – and that’s fine, he’s still learning – luckily he seems to have realised this because he linked to an academic paper called: ‘A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Within-Person Self-Efficacy Domain: Is Self-Efficacy a Product of Past Performance or a Driver of Future Performance?’ Which, while being impregnable, gave me something solid to google. 

What is Self-Efficacy?

Khan Academy

The American Psychological Association defines it as:

An individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997).

My understanding of this is that Self-Efficacy is a person’s belief that they can achieve a particular thing, to a particular standard. The graphic, which is a screenshot of a video on the subject, adds ‘in a certain situation,’ and provides four streams from which this belief flows.  

1. Mastery of Experience

As you’d expect this refers to having done a thing successfully in the past. If you’ve achieved an outcome already, you’re likely to believe you can do it again. 

2. Social Modelling

If you’ve seen someone you can relate to achieve a certain outcome, you will be encouraged to believe you can do it too. 

3. Social Persuasion

If others say you can do something, you’re more likely to believe you can. Conversely if others tell you you can’t do something, you may believe them (depending on who they are).

4. Psychological Responses

This relates to your emotional state: if you’re feeling stressed, for example, your belief in your capacity to perform a difficult task is likely to be reduced. 

What might all this have to do with my avoiding writing this post?

1. I’ve been blogging since 2007, I’m pretty sure I’ve mastered writing posts. Though, it’s true, this one has turned out to require quite some thought (and I still don’t know if I’m making sense). 

2. I know lots of people just like me who write blog posts, so my social modelling is positive.

3. My stats are growing, so that’s people telling me I can do it, isn’t it?

4. My emotional state is pretty positive, I’m quite cheerful, but I do have a lot to do at the moment. Maybe I’m feeling a bit thinly spread, and that’s enough to make me avoid doing certain things? 

The other element in avoidance, according to Hardy is congruence, or lack thereof. This is where Carl Rogers and the boozy lunch comes in; he argued that when the difference between a person’s ideal self, and their perceived self is too great, that person can’t self-actualize.

Image: Homestyle

I’m going to leave you with that thought for another week. There’s too much to self-actualisation to be able to get any purchase on it in a few hundred words, and as I’ve already got nearly a thousand here it would seem better to give it a post of its own. When I began with Benjamin Hardy’s theory I had no idea it would get so complicated. I may not have embarked on this exploration if I’d realised it would make me work so hard, all this research and trying to make sense takes me away from actual writing. I haven’t looked at such complex subjects since university, not really; I’ve had the odd foray into quantum physics, but that’s just play, fun. This, possibly because it relates directly to myself, feels a bit serious.

So, just to recap: in this post I’ve been trying to understand why I’ve been avoiding writing this post. Why do we avoid doing things? I’ve half concluded that it may be something to do with the state of my self-efficacy, which could be a little weak at the moment due to my workload. It’s unlikely that it’s weak due to my not feeling well practised in blog post writing, I do that all the time; it’s unlikely, too, to be because I don’t have enough social models, I have hundreds; and no one’s been telling me I’m crap at writing blog posts, so social persuasion isn’t the culprit. The only thing left is my psychological/emotional state. It may be compromised to the point I just can’t imagine* myself being able to find enough time or energy to do a good enough job.

Unless I’m incongruent, which I’ll look at next week.

P.S. I realise the pictures don’t illustrate the text at all, I think I managed to avoid creating this post, yet still write it, by looking at pretty pictures of the kinds of scenes my ideal-self would experience daily.

Header Image: Metaphor Metaphor

*I assume he means ‘fewer.’

** Imagined Experiences

We can influence self-efficacy beliefs by imagining ourselves or others behaving effectively or ineffectively in hypothetical situations. Such images may be derived from actual or vicarious experiences with situations similar to the one anticipated, or they may be induced by verbal persuasion, as when a psychotherapist guides a client through interventions, such as systematic desensitization and covert modeling (Williams, 1995). Simply imagining myself doing something well, however,is not likely to have as strong an influence on my self-efficacy as will an actual experience (Williams, 1995).

Maddux, James. (2012). Self-Efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can. The Handbook of Positive Psychology. 227-287. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195187243.013.0031.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #9

Writer Opps Wednesday today brings you an Emerging Writers Contest; a Screenplay Writers Contest; a link to a great site that lists 33 children’s book publishers looking for submissions; a magazine looking for submissions on three themes, and an acoustic music festival delighted to welcome spoken word performers, poets, storytellers, anyone, in fact, with text based art they can perform to add to, and enrich, the music.

The Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest

The Emerging Writer’s contest is open from March 1, 2019 at noon EST until May 15, 2019 at noon EST.
Since 1971, Ploughshares has been committed to promoting the work of up-and-coming writers. Over the years, Ploughshares has helped launch the careers of great writers like Edward P. Jones, Sue Miller, Mona Simpson, Tim O’Brien, and many more. 
In the spirit of the journal’s founding mission, the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest recognizes work by an emerging writer in each of three genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. One winner in each genre per year will receive $2,000 and publication in the literary journal.  We consider authors “emerging” if they haven’t published or self-published a book.
To submit, see our guidelines. The 2019 contest judges are Ottessa Moshfegh (Fiction), Leslie Jamison (Nonfiction), and Fatimah Asghar (Poetry). The winners will also receive a conversation with our partnering literary agency, Aevitas Creative Management, regarding their work and writing careers.

The competition is open to you, regardless of where in the world you live. Go to their site for all the details and the link to the submissions form.

Have you ever written a screenplay, are you writing one now, perhaps? If so this may be just the award for you:

I know nothing about screenwriting, but I can tell you this is open to anyone with a screenplay who hasn’t managed to make the jump to professional, and you can live anywhere in the world to apply. It’s not cheap, but it may be just what you need to kickstart your screenwriting career. Go here for all the details, and for the submissions link.

Authors Publish, a wonderful resource for writers everywhere, has published a list of

33 Children’s Book Publishers Seeking Picture Books

Here’s one example to whet your appetite:

Nosy Crow is a UK-based publisher of children’s books and apps aimed at children. They accept international submissions from all over, but everyone outside of the UK must submit via email (which is their preferred method of submission). They have wide distribution within the UK. The books they published are aimed at children up to the age of 14, although the bulk of what they publish is for children under the age of 12. The young adult books that they do publish are not issue-based, and should not involve drugs, sex, or violence. Most of the apps they publish are aimed at kids between the ages of 2 to 7.

If you write children’s books it will be well worth your while dropping in to see what they have that might suit your needs.

Image from here.

Thema is a lit journal that pays for stories, poems, and artwork that relates to a given theme. And they are currently open for submissions, about which they say:

Upcoming premises (target themes) and deadlines for submission [postmarked]:

The Clumsy Gardener [July 1, 2019]
What a Strange Question! [November 1, 2019]
Not of this World [March 1, 2020]


NOTE: Previously published pieces are welcome, provided that the submission fits the theme and that the author owns the copyright.

The premise (target theme) must be an integral part of the plot, not necessarily the central theme but not merely incidental. Fewer than 20 double-spaced typewritten pages preferred. Indicate premise (target theme) on title page. Be sure to Indicate target theme in cover letter or on first page of manuscript. Include self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with each submission. Rejected manuscripts unaccompanied by an SASE will not be returned. Response time: 3 months after premise deadline.  NO READER’S FEE.

Mail to: THEMA, Box 8747, Metairie, LA 70011-8747.

Outside the US: email

On acceptance for publication, we will pay the following amount: short story, $25; short-short piece (up to 1000 words), $10; poem, $10; artwork, $25 for cover, $10 for interior page display.

I really like that they give a long term list. I am a super slow writer, and need time to get a story up to scratch, so providing the premises such a long way in advance allows me to work at my own pace. Go to the site to find out more and to submit.

Finally we have an opportunity for poets and storytellers to mix with musicians, and perform their work in pubs all over Moffat.

This is in my hometown, and I keep trying to get more spoken word performers to come along. It’s a slightly wild weekend of music and booze that welcomes all levels of players and writers, from competent learners who feel it’s time to test their skills in front of an audience, to virtuosos who aren’t driven doolally by less than perfect timing. The only thing we really ask of participants is a little respect for their peers: one tune/song/poem/story at a time; allow whoever’s turn it is to shine – not every song is enhanced by your instrument – and listen. I’ll be dropping in and out, clutching my stories and poems, hoping to see other writers. If you’d like to come, but feel a bit too shy to present yourself to a bar full of musicians (and I can understand that) drop me a line and we can arrange to meet. Here’s the Facebook page where you’ll find lots of pictures of past Rammies.

That, then, is your list of opportunities for this week. Hope at least one of them is just what you’ve been waiting for. If you decide to try for one or more of them please let me know in the comments, so I can wish you good luck!


Header image: of William Faulkner’s office from Oprah.

Story-A-Week #10: Narrative Arc

Last Tuesday was the last in my Café Stories series of workshops* so we looked back on everything we’d covered, pulled it all together with a look at the narrative arc, did a bit of editing, and wrote one last story.

I gave students a list of all the things we’d worked through:

Session 1: Character.

Session 2: Objects and how to transfer them to the reader’s imagination using similes.

Session 3: The ‘Hook’ aka the opening line or paragraph that makes the reader want to keep reading.

Session 4: Place, how to make the reader fully experience the setting by appealing to their 5 senses.

Session 5: Memoir and Plot: how to write your own story using one of the 7 basic plots.

And asked them to take out any one of the stories they’d written during the course, and examine it for these elements. Was the character fully drawn and ‘real’? Could the objects described be rendered in the reader’s imagination? Did the opening lines act as an invitation the reader couldn’t refuse? Could a reader walk through the setting in her/his imagination as if it were a real place? And which of the 7 basic plots did the story best fit? They had to interrogate their stories, and edit where necessary. This they found almost painfully difficult (as editing one’s own work always is). So I used one of my settings as an example, and took them through what I felt I needed to do to both make it more available to the senses, and to help move the story on. I then gave them a diagram

so we could discuss the narrative arcs of their own stories. They already intrinsically understood this, natural storytellers all, but had never thought about it. I think it helps to bring such things out from the subconscious and examine them. It also helps when editing to have something simple like this available. Now I look at it here I reckon this probably isn’t the best diagram of a narrative arc I’ve seen. It’s a bit exaggerated. A bit over simple, perhaps. Next time I’ll provide a better one, but as always I was doing the lesson plan at the last minute, and working it out as I went along. All my old lesson plans are either in the loft or on my old computer, and I hadn’t left myself enough time to search them out. My students aren’t the only ones learning from these sessions. Anyway, I think it did the job. But, to show how you can use one to probe your own work, here’s an arc map of my story Myrtle Davis**

I’m not sure if I’ve got it quite right, is the climax where I think it is?

Untitled 003: Xi Huang

Once I’d tortured them enough with the editing process I gave them one last prompt and set them to write a story. Here’s the one I bashed out, as usual it’s far from done, I should probably have done my arc map on this one to help get it organised, but that will have to wait for another day.

An Untitled Story that Features a Table

First coffee of the day, she moves through the kitchen to the back door, she will take it in the garden. Normally she likes to sit at her flea-market marble-topped table, on the old chair now softened with a Liberty covered cushion, given by too-rich-for-her-own-good-Lucy-down-the-road who was throwing it away. 

‘I’m so bored with it!’ She’d said, thrusting it at her.

She likes the way the sun comes in through the open blinds and strokes the back of her neck, like an attentive lover. The contrast of that warmth with the cool of the stone. Its Patisserie counter whiteness evoking buttery crusts filled with wine-poached fruits and vanilla scented creme. She couldn’t believe her luck when the stallholder let her have it for a tenner rather than load it back into his van. Though when she tried to get it into her car she understood his reasoning. Not only was it too heavy for her to lift more than a few centimetres without feeling her knees would pop, it became dangerously unbalanced when tipped. But that wasn’t going to stop her trying, and her back wasn’t permanently damaged.

She’s dreamt at this table every morning, with her favourite drink, in her favourite mug, for almost ten years.

But this is the morning after she sat and listened to him deliver his list. She knew the contents already. But hearing it performed like that; its irremediable truth manifested, as if acid etched, onto the surface. At this moment it feels to early to look at the table.

Can you guess what the prompt was?

Next week we’ll be back to the old short-story-a-week challenge format, whereby I follow Ray Bradbury’s rules which end in publishing the story on Mondays. For the next story I’m flipping my technique on its head…


Header image: Restoration Hardware.

*I will do another series of these workshops in the autumn, summer is for gardening and rewriting my novel.

**I’ve done a little work on this story since posting it here, but the arc is the same.

Relationships and the Creative Practitioner

I’ve been working through Benjamin Hardy‘s 30 Behaviours to Make You Unstoppable in 2019 in the hope it will help me find a way to achieve my life goals. I don’t want to be a millionaire or anything, I’d just like to make enough to travel a little, buy the odd book, and replace my fraying knickers; be as good a wife as D is a husband; and, when the time comes, leave the world in a slightly better state than I entered it. This week I look at behaviours 10 and 11, which are almost identical.

10. Deepen Your Relationship With Your Parents

“The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind.”Bessel van der Kolk

In the important book, The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. explains that suppressed emotions and trauma lead people to unhealthy and addictive cycles.

One of the most fundamental components of making a positive change in your life is developing a healthy relationship with your parents — whether they are alive or not.

Your relationship with your parents is a powerful indicator of your emotional well-being as a person. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you appear on the outside, if you don’t have this key relationship established, then chances are you are an emotional wreck.

Oftentimes, people have “toxic” or unhealthy parents. These parents should be viewed and treated with love and forgiveness, not spite and disdain. As you improve your own life and deepen the relationship with your parents, you often give them permission to expand and evolve themselves.

They need you just as much as you need them.

Henry Moore: Mother and Child

I don’t really have much to say about my relationship with my parents. They are both dead. My mother died in 2006, she was 79, and had been very ill for a long time. It’s safe to say that she was a very conflicted woman: I have memories of her dragging me round a feminist march one weekend, and an anti-abortion one the next. I’m not kidding. She fought her employers to allow women to wear trousers, and won, but let my brother off household chores because he was a boy. We came to blows more than once as I was growing up, and I felt guilty till well into my forties for slapping her back when I was sixteen, but by the time she died we had long been friends.

As for my father, he died when I was thirteen. I was really pissed off with him for leaving us, and for years I dreamt he was still alive (my mother was lying, she’d kicked him out!) and one day I’d meet him in a café on the Brompton Road and we’d discuss philosophy. Then on the evening of the day my mother died I learnt that my father had been a different dad to my wee brother. Rather than the super-rational man I turned to to help in the battle against my mother’s over-constraining Catholicism, he’d been so thuggish that, when he grew up and fell in love, my brother couldn’t bring himself to have his own kids for fear fatherhood would bring out the brute in him too. He couldn’t bear the thought he might hurt his kids as dad had hurt him. As you can imagine that took a bit of dealing with: I was furious with him (my father) for hurting my brother, and for deceiving me. And I was even more furious with myself for not seeing this was going on, and protecting my brother. What kind of sister doesn’t see that her wee brother is being bullied? I’m not sure I can say I’ve forgiven my father for that, but I know how complex each person is, and that it’s very difficult to break out of the mould you were cast in. I don’t forgive him for hurting my brother, but I forgive him for not having had the emotional resources necessary not to.

I’m not sure I could ever have described my parents as toxic, that seems a bit strong, but unhealthy? Somewhat. And although I probably did think of them both with a modicum of disdain (never spite) in my younger years, I reckon my relationship with them has been pretty healthy for sometime. I tend to think of them as victims of their own circumstances, and no one can be blamed for that. Maybe that’s why I’m not ‘an emotional wreck.’ That ‘key relationship’ is, for me, about as good as it can be.

Montmartre, Paris, 1948. Photo: Édouard Boubat.

11. Develop Other “Protection” Relationships

In a recent interview, Kobe Bryant told the story of his first year playing basketball at age 11. He scored zero points. He was terrible.

After that season, his dad looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t care if you scored 60 points or 0 points. I will love you no matter what.”

That was exactly what Kobe needed to hear. He knew that regardless of his behavior — he was safe. His father would love him.

This protection gave Kobe permission to fail. It gave him permission to take risks. The buffer of his father’s love allowed Kobe to step outside of his comfort zone — to the only place high performance can exist.

If you don’t feel protected in your relationships, it can be hard to push your own boundaries. It can be hard to be free because you’re actually a slave to the relationship. This is living in an unhealthy dependent state where everything you do is based on trying to please other people.

But when you feel loved and protected regardless of outcomes, then you can rise to independence and attempt things that will likely fail, often.

The next season, Kobe began failing intensely and as a result, he began learning intensely. He left his comfort zone behind and began playing in the realms of creativity and imagination — where no limits were placed upon him.

All he had to do was step beyond the boundaries of who he had been in the past, and step into the new role and identity emblazoned in his own imagination and fortified by his father’s love.

He embraced the unknown over and over because he was willing to be free — free to see what was possible, to fail, to explore, to create. Free to become legendary.

Do you have powerful protection relationships in your life?

Do you feel stabilized and safe?

Do you have a firm foundation that allows you the flexibility to jump way outside of your comfort zone, and yet be safe?

Although I find it slightly irritating that Hardy chose to use a parent-child relationship as his example here, I can’t tell you how validating this is. For thirty years I was in a relationship that was so destabilizing that, for the final five or six years, I was barely able to leave the house, let alone push a boundary. My husband had a way of uttering encouraging words in a manner (tone of voice, body language) that suggested I would always be a failure. Yes, I was ‘stunning’ and ‘incredibly intelligent,’ but ‘what do you say to someone with a philosophy degree…? “Big Mac and fries, please” ha ha ha.’ I kept trying to do interesting things, but I’d always lose momentum. I did get two degrees while we were married, and even won an award for academic excellence, but he managed to make my achievements sound paltry, laughable even, and I couldn’t see what to do with them once I’d got them.

But I don’t think I’d have got those degrees and awards in a happy marriage. It was trying to please him, that made me enrol at university. I was so afraid he’d get bored with my stupidity, and leave, I decided I had to try and do something about it. And now here I am, with a bunch of skills I’m putting to good use, and a dream husband. So, although that marriage was often very difficult, and I was pretty sad and lonely for most of it, I’m grateful to my ex for bringing out the best in me.

And now I’m lucky enough to have one of those ‘protection relationships’ Hardy talks about, too. And he’s right, it does allow me to take risks, push boundaries, be creative. I’ve begun to ‘step out of my comfort zone’ almost daily. Even writing this – slightly too personal stuff on a blog that could be read by anyone – would have been impossibly excruciating in my last relationship. My thinking now is that it may help another creative to think their way past some obstacle, and break free. And that’s only possible now I feel ‘safe’ and loved for myself rather than as an accessory. Even though Dave is the kind of man who doesn’t believe in letting the world know his personal difficulties he doesn’t mock me for being different to him, in fact he delights in my idiosyncrasies. I feel I could try anything and he would support me. We’ve been together seven years, and not having to constantly defend myself has taken quite some getting used to, but I’m finally beginning to feel empowered. I can now push myself. Take risks. I’m no longer afraid of failing, of looking like an idiot and giving the person in my life ammunition against me.

It remains to be seen if any of this translates to my achieving my life goals, but it certainly feels possible. I wouldn’t have dared have life goals when married to my ex.


Header image: Chekhov and His Wife, Olga L. Knipper.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #8

Writer Opps Wednesday is back, and pleased to share two development opportunities in Dumfries and Galloway, and three magazines looking for your writing to publish:

Writers’ Gathering

Which is run by Wigtown Festival Company. This is what they say:

The Writers’ Gathering takes place on Saturday 11th May 2019, 9:30-16:30, in The Print Room, Wigtown. An annual day conference for writers in Dumfries & Galloway.

The Writers’ Gathering is Wigtown Festival Company’s annual day conference for writers in Dumfries & Galloway, led by a mix of successful writers and leading industry professionals to deliver a balance of inspirational and skills-specific sessions, including workshops, seminars and one-to-ones. This year’s speakers include Gerda Stevenson (poet, actress and playwright), Claire Wingfield (literary consultant), Allan Guthrie (literary agent and crime fiction author and editor), and Lucy Ribchester (historical novelist and short story writer).

Location: Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire

For further information, please contact (, or call 01988 402036 , or visit

As one of Wigtown Festival Company’s three Literature Ambassadors I had a little input into this and, I have to say, it’s going to be a blinder. I am planning to be there, and it would be great to see you there too.

If you struggle with realizing the setting in your writing this could be for you. Run by dedicated, hands on, local writers who know what they’re talking about, it should be well worth the time (and money) spent for anyone who’s serious about the craft.

Details- WANT TO WRITE but can’t find the time – or a quiet place?

– Enjoy MEETING OTHER WRITERS with a range of interests and abilities?

– Would you benefit from a ONE-TO-ONE discussion with an experienced creative writer/tutor?

This March, join us at Shambellie House and learn about instilling a sense of place into your creative writing.

Over the course of two Saturdays, group workshops will focus on the creation of atmosphere, the link between setting and characters, and how to avoid clichés and transform stereotypes. There will be time for individual reflection, exploration of the house and grounds, and personal writing.

An allocated one-to-one session* will give you the opportunity to discuss any issues or challenges you are facing in your writing, with the option to bring along a short extract of work for more focused critique.

The second weekend will culminate with the opportunity to share your new/edited writing with the group.

👉 Tickets are ONLY £55 and include attendance on BOTH Saturdays! This also includes tea/coffee and your one-to-one session, as well as group workshops and individual writing time. (Booking fee/p&p costs apply.) Book now via TicketSource link!

Go here for more details and to book.

Image from Hally’s

Now for the zines, first up, an online magazine with an interesting concept:

Five on the Fifth

Who publishes five short pieces of writing on the fifth of every month. They’ve been going since 2015, accept submissions all year round, and respond within a month. 

Submission Guidelines

Five on the Fifth publishes 5 short stories on the fifth of each month. We accept flash fiction, general fiction, non-fiction, horror, and science fiction/fantasy.  The maximum word count for submissions is 5,000 words. 

We now receive hundreds of submissions each month. Five on the Fifth is growing, and we (the editors) are very excited about it. Publication in Five on the Fifth is becoming more competitive each issue. Ensure that your story is free of typos and grammatical errors. Your submission should be in proper manuscript format. Cover letters should be concise and professional. Biographical statements should be a few sentences at most. Highlight your recent accomplishments. 

A note on what we don’t want: We do not publish novels. We do not publish poetry. We do not publish fan fiction. We do not publish experimental pieces. We do not publish erotica, though there can be erotic and/or graphic elements in your fiction, so long as it is for the purpose of telling a great story. 

Five on the Fifth is now exclusively accepting submissions through its submission manager, Submittable. Please read the full submission guidelines and submit your work by visiting Five on the Fifth’s Submittable page

Then we have:


Who are looking for stories on the theme of


About which they say:

Will close on April 15, 2019.

Stories of endings, beginnings, and change. As always, a political bent doesn’t hurt but not required. The apocalypse can be big or small, personal or world shattering. Humor is always good. Satire is excellent.

We will include some good poetry and thoughtful essays if you have them.  For stories we’re looking for 500 to 5000 words.

We anticipate releasing at World Con in Dublin.

Edited by Debora Godfrey and Bob Brown

For more details visit their website.

Lastly the ever joyous:

Are always looking for submissions of poetry, flash fiction, word & image and reviews. Go to their submissions page for all the details. 

And that’s it for this week, Writer Opps Wednesday hopes at least one will appeal to you, and that you have much luck. See you next week for more opportunities of a literary bent.


Header image: Greige Design.

Story-a-Week #9: Memoir and Monsters

For last Tuesday’s Café Stories I put together a lesson that combined memoir writing and plot types. There are umpteen theories on the range of narrative structures, but to keep it simple I stuck to the one that holds there are only 7 Basic Plots, and that all creative texts – films; novels; short stories; ballads… – fit in to at least one. They are:

1. Overcoming The Monster – you have a demon to battle. This doesn’t have to be a dragon or an archetypal villain, but can be a horrible boss, a narcissistic mother, an addiction… Indeed, you yourself can be the monster you overcome.

2. Rebirth – stories of renewal, such as It’s a Wonderful Life.

3. The Quest – where the hero goes on a mission from point A to point B (or Z!), this can be anything from saving the planet to searching for your granny’s lost gardening gloves to getting fit enough to compete in a cross country egg and spoon race.

4. Journey and Return – the hero sets off on a journey, often, but not always, reluctantly, and eventually returns a changed – stronger, more flexible, better – person. This doesn’t have to be a long journey, or even a physical one.

5. Rags to Riches – once you had little now you have enough. Again this doesn’t have to be the boringly obvious grew up poor now you have a three car garage. It could be about knowledge: once you knew nothing of town planning, now you’ve been awarded Town Planner of the year; or relationships: you move to a new town, you know no one, you make new friends…

6. Tragedy – you crash your mother’s beloved convertible…

7. Comedy – you crash your mother’s beloved convertible into a mobile cheese van, and her Orla Kiely upholstered seats get swamped with Stinking Bishop. It is 32°c.

But before I told them any of this we talked about the difference between memoir and autobiography. Which is that while autobiography is about a whole life, memoir focuses on one slice of the pie of that life. You choose one event, incident, interest, relationship… that is in some way important to you. It doesn’t have to be hugely dramatic like a death or big loss, but it does have to be something that you feel shaped you in some way. You could have lost a shoe and, in the process of looking for it, found something you didn’t know you needed, something about yourself, someone close to you, or even about humanity.

Here are three examples of memoir writing:

I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.

(Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert)

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

(A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

(Walden by Henry David Thoreau

After a brief chat about what made these interesting I gave them an exercise:

Beijing, China: The Labyrinth – an art installation by Michelangelo Pistoletto comprising 2,100 metres of cardboard – at Galleria Continua
Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Take five minutes to brainstorm as many significant events from your own life as you can. For example: the birth of my oldest child; the time we went to Brighton; the book that changed my reading habits; when my best friend at school didn’t return after the summer holidays; the day I lost my left shoe…

We all tell stories about things that happen to us, and sometimes we carry stories inside us that we don’t tell, or tell to only a very few people, because they’re too complicated, or too sad, or too difficult to tell in a few minutes. So just jot down anything that comes to mind, don’t try too hard, just let them come. 

We then shared our lists and had a wee chat about them, before I took them through the list of basic plots and said a bit about those (see above).  I asked them to pick one of their story possibilities and we talked about which of the basic plots they might fit into. Here’s my list:

The time I came home after being out in nothing but a bikini and my mother went bonkers

The time the very popular new girl in school defended me against a group of boys calling me WOG (‘does that mean wonderful original girl?)

The time I got an email from my husband’s mistress

The time I went to ‘women’s returner’ classes and found out I wasn’t as stupid as I’d been led to believe

The time my mother turned into a film star as she was handed a cup of coffee at aunt Elsa’s.

I chose the last one. It seemed easiest, especially as I’m currently writing an essay about my relationship with coffee that includes this episode, so it’s been on my mind anyway. But I didn’t actually write it then as a deadline was looming,* so while my students created I polished and emailed out another project.

I dashed this off when I had a moment later in the week. 

Myrna Loy via this place.

I was eight years old the day my mother turned into a movie star.

Sleep shadowed in the kitchen of aunts Elsa and Marge – sisters rendered single by the war – I watched my father pour coffee into a tall mug from a dyspnoeic pot. One sugar, plop! Two sugars, plop! A lick of milk. He stirred until every grain had dissolved and turned to the window, his face bright as a chocolate moon.

Before the French windows, open to a small filigree-railed balcony and the hum of London, my mother stretched out her arm to receive his offering. She leaned back on her stool, raised the cup to her lips, sipped, closed her eyes, and sighed. Wreathed in back-lit smoke from the smouldering cigarette she held like a note, dressed in visiting clothes, framed by breeze-puffed curtains, my mother atomised and reformed like a perfume-hologram of Myrna Loy.

Obviously it needs a bit more thought, but perhaps you can help me by suggesting which basic plot fits it best, and why. I can then construct the story based on your ideas. How’s that for collaboration? 

*Those tender evaluations I mentioned on Friday.

Header image from guess where!

On Becoming Unstoppable #4

Onto the ninth of Benjamin Hardy’s Thirty Behaviours to Make [Me] Unstoppable: 

Create More Peake Experiences

He begins with a quote: 

“Peak experiences as rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”Abraham Maslow

and, thankfully, goes on to say:

‘Peak experiences, by nature, are novel and new. They involve experiencing or seeing the world in a new way.

In order for you to have a peak experience, you need to be open to new experiences. You need to be humble

Peak experiences are more likely to happen outside of your comfort zone. They generally involve “experiential” learning.’


‘Peak experiences don’t need to be rare. They are only as rare as your courage is exercised. If you begin being courageous daily, you’ll start having more peak experiences.

As you have more peak experiences, your emotional wellbeing will increase, and thus, your imagination and ability to direct and create your future will expand.’


‘Put simply, you can and must create experiences that change your identity. As your identity changes, your future will change. Einstein wisely said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Change can only happen by imagining a different world, and then courageously seeking new and expansive experiences. Change happens as you learn and expand your world.’

The glowing remains of a dying, Sun-like star known as the Ant Nebula, via BuzzFeed.

So, my understanding is that peak experiences are rare, but don’t need to be. They are novel to the person experiencing them, happen outside your comfort zone, and expand your world. And by experiencing them you will grow and change. 

According to this analysis I have, in the last week, had three peak experiences. Though two of them are unlikely to be considered thus by most people. The first was that I helped organise a community engagement event. This included many meetings (no longer novel for me); making a lot of chocolate based treats (also not particularly novel, but becoming more so now I’ve married a diabetic); getting up at seven in the morning (exceedingly novel); and manning a stall on the Community Nature Reserve (weird and novel). There was also a great deal of last minute printing and putting things in plastic folders. The second was reading and evaluating tenders from consultants for the redevelopment of our local High Street. Both were part of my role as a community councillor.

As those are pretty boring things to write about, let alone read about, I won’t bore you with the details. It’s enough, I hope, to say I experienced them, and they were, on the whole, difficult because they were not only fairly novel, they also involved lots of other people. These days I prefer to work alone and please myself. Out of my comfort zone barely begins to describe.

The third experience was more the kind of thing I’d think of as ‘peak.’ 

Seeing a giant octopus while deep sea diving; trekking in the Andes; drinking yak blood cocktails in a yurt with the Himalayas looming above. These are the kind of things I tend to think of as mystical, magical, and mind expanding. But also communing with art. 

Anna Hepler, via…

On Saturday evening, having been woken at seven in order to stand in a draughty town hall explaining the difference between the song of blackbirds and song thrushes, and give my view on nesting boxes, I was so tired I’d have crawled into bed straight after supper. But our local theatre was showing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Umpteen friends had told me it was marvellous, and I’d seen the trailer. So I washed up, put on a clean shirt, and wandered up the road with Dave to join a group of pals for a pre movie Prosecco and the film. I wasn’t sure I’d stay awake beyond the credits. But, boy, did I.

I was hooked from the start. The music was perfect, as were the casting and the juxtapositions – the shabby town contrasted with the gorgeous scenery for example, but also those within and between the characters. But the thing I liked best about it was the timing, it was exquisite. There wasn’t a word spoken, a gesture, a camera shot, or anything else that didn’t come at exactly the right nano-second to work to make the whole thing hang together like a galaxy. The peak in the experience of watching this film was the almost unbearable precision: it was a tense and illuminating event.* The only other English language film I can think of whose gravity is so finely tuned is The Station Agent. I love the Coen brothers and their work, but this topped even them. Watching it was like eating a nutritionally balanced, yet delicious breakfast in a room papered with Paul Klee’s watercolours. I came out of the theatre more alive than I’ve felt in months, and definitely saw the world in a new way. If you haven’t seen it you must.

Paul Klee: Cubic Construction via the Tate.

So that’s behaviour nine of Hardy’s thirty. I learnt a lot from all three of the experiences I put myself through: how to pull off an event as part of a disparate team, and, I think crucially, settle for good enough; how to put my language and text analysis skills to use evaluating tenders for something I really don’t know much about; and how precision in art makes all the difference.

Behaviours ten and eleven are about relationships, so I’ll look at them in unison next week.

*I should probably say that at the time of watching the film I wasn’t aware of any of this, I didn’t sit watching and thinking ‘gosh that’s good use of timing.’ It’s only because I came out feeling awe struck that I have subsequently attempted to look at why.

Header image of paddy fields in Bhutan from Pinterest.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Reader Opps

Writer Opps Wednesday has been abducted by aliens…

Header image: Carl Jung Psychology Site

%d bloggers like this: