2016. A Year of Firsts

So it’s December, and the usual row rages: who is included on the list of finalists for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Why him? Why not her?Image result for sports personality of the year

I suppose it’s a natural time to look back a little; to reflect and evaluate.

It’s no secret that 2016 was a very exciting year for me: Image result for clipart FirstMy first publication contract. My first book out there. My first book signing, my first book launch, my first editing process with actual publishers. My first #SCBWI conference, my first #BookWeekScotland. My first Book Festival as committee chair (for NessBookFest). My first venture into Twitter. My first paid gig as a writer. My first book trailer. My first radio interview. 

When I look back, New Year’s resolutions have always played quite an important part at moving me on to the next stage. I’m the sort of person who needs the proverbial kick. I can even administer it myself – I can be pretty self-motivated if I need to be, but it has to be a kick nonetheless. Last year’s resolution was to stop fighting it and join Twitter. The hovering deadline then was the XPO North Pitching contest. I signed up, pitched my work and in a roundabout way, it did yield a publication contract. It certainly has been worth the effort multiple times over!

Many years ago I made another new year’s resolution: to finish a novel manuscript by the end of that year. I did it. It’s not my best work, but Rain on the Roof was the start of something for sure. If it wasn’t for that book, none of the rest of them might exist at all. Entering competitions, submitting to agents and publishers – all of these were resolutions of one kind or another, and all of those have served me well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge success story – I have failed in all attempts to curb eating/exercise more! But as a writer, I like fresh starts. New Year is really a deadline like any other. By then I will have an idea of my next goal, the next step, the next proverbial kick.Image result for clipart: kick

And as I ponder that, maybe you will too – and gear up for the next thing, be it big or small. 🙂

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The Ride (20):The Wait

All my Advanced Review copies of Fir for Luck went out what feels like a lifetime ago. Scattered across England, Scotland, Ireland, even Canada, book bloggers and reviewers are hidden away in their reading closets. I had never given this a second’s thought, but it’s actually quite unsettling for the writer.

For the first time, my precious baby (henceforth referred to as Fir for Luck!) is out in the big bad world, all by itself!

It will need to make sense to readers, without me standing nearby, ready to jump in: ‘Oh, that bit. Yeah, what it means is …’ or ‘You see, what I was trying to do there was…’  Of course, that makes me worry even more. I’ve been choosing my readings for the book launch, and you begin to second-guess every single thing. You read it and read it and read it again, and by the end of it you wonder whether there is a single coherent sentence in this book that you’d be able to read out loud. Think I’m joking – just google writer self-doubt, and I’m sure you’d find plenty of examples of people who felt exactly like me.

Unhappily, this coincides with the very time that the final copy has gone to print and it is the writer’s job (alongside my super-supportive publishers) to whip up some sort of public interest in the book ahead of its launch. In other words, just when you’re feeling most vulnerable about your writing, that’s when you have to sell it with all your heart. Hmmmm.

Which is why I was so heartened by a couple of tweets I discovered the other night. I had not thought about this, but it seems natural, on reflection, that book bloggers talk to one another. Of course it makes sense.

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So, despite the fact that no review has actually appeared yet (the official blog tour doesn’t start till later in the month – see last blog post!) I can breathe a little more easily. Thank you for the clues, bloggers! Maybe things are going to be ok…

PS The book trailer has had 269 views so far… really happy with that!

 

 

The Ride(19) The Trailer is Out!!!!

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

I’m a sucker for book trailers. I even persuaded my wee drama group at school to take part in a book trailer competition a while back – and we won! So it goes without saying that, when I got a book deal for Fir for Luck, I started speculating about my very own book trailer.

It does help if you’ve got contacts, of course. Up-and-coming filmmaker Ross Wiseman (www.wisemanfilms.co.uk) is a family friend, and he was my first port of call. I can’t pay you a lot, I said, but I’d love you to help me make a trailer. And he agreed. Plans and a draft screenplay began to clutter up my desk, and he agreed to come up from Glasgow and head north with us. In case you are interested, here are just a few exclusive snaps from the day.

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Ross in action, filming close-ups with our model for Janet, my main character. Rachael is a family friend.
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Taking a break from running up and down the hill with my daughter Isla (they are friends) and our bemused dog.

It soon became obvious that hurtling down the hill at lightning speed is my daughter Isla’s particular superpower. The final footage is a mixture of hers and Rachael’s feet. You’d never have known, would you now?

The fantastic sound effects of the confrontation were actually recorded by my oldest daughter Carla and her Nat5 drama class at Eden Court Theatre. Great work, guys.

And the harp music at the beginning? I found a YouTube clip of a piece of music I liked, and kind Skye harp maker William MacDonald (http://www.macdonaldharps.net/) allowed me to use it!

So there you have it – an exclusive insight into the making of Fir for Luck’s book trailer.

The Ride(18): Shrine? Blog Tour?

Oh, my goodness – Life on the Ride has been so crazy lately that I’ve not even had time to blog about it.

I have my physical copy now, of course.

What does one do with the first actual physical copy of the book? I considered building a wee shrine of course, with spotlights and soft music playing…candles maybe? I left my copy on the desk with a note beside, saying Have You Washed Your Hands? – the obvious thing to say when you have three kids.

However, it wasn’t long before I started to treat it as a book.

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My book’s default habitat: handbag

It began to live in my handbag, as friends wanted to take a look at my proof copy.

 

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Meeting with SCBWI friends in Edinburgh. Elizabeth Ezra, in the grey top, has just won the Kelpies Prize!
My SCBWI friends in Edinburgh passed it round, and by now it has been touched by a hundred hands. It’s a book. It’s a special book to me, but it is a book!

 

 

Then there was a blog tour to organise, liaising with different book bloggers and assigning slots.

The idea behind a blog tour is to generate a bit of online buzz, as a small publisher never really gets the limelight in big bookstore initiatives like the Waterstones Book of the Month. Books from small publishers also rarely make it onto the tables in bookshops, which are dominated by titles published by the Big Five. So effectively, you have to come up with a different way. Your shop window is an online one.

I was told all this months ago.

Problem! I thought. I knew no book bloggers. Asking around yielded one or two, but the way forward was to join the Book Connectors Facebook group where bloggers and writers meet. I also attended a lunch in Edinburgh (as I mentioned before on the Ride). Bingo, three more bloggers were happy to receive a copy, review it and be part of the blog tour. A couple of fellow writers offered to host guest posts…it was coming together. But this still left all the children’s book bloggers out there whom I simply didn’t know. Rather than only begging individually, I put out a general tweet pitching the book to children’s book bloggers at large, and guess what: I came across a lovely, interested bunch of reviewers who actually wanted to take a look. There is no guarantee they’ll like it, of course, but at least now I have a decent handful of stops and a blog tour as diverse and spread out as my potential readers. Result!FFL Blog Tour Image

(I’m already apologising in advance, because anyone in my general Blog/Facebook/Twittersphere will be hit by a Tsunami of Fir-for Luck related bits and bobs. Brace yourselves, folks!)

In other news…

  • I have ordered some (erm, a lot of) bookmarks.FFL Bookmark Back
  • I have learned to set up a Facebook event – no, don’t judge me! I have just never had the need for one before…
  • The Book Trailer is *DONE*. Watch this space, it’ll hit the big wide world really soon!
  • I have a few more events sorted out – I’ll add details to my website as and when they are all confirmed, but I was over the moon to hear that Durness Primary School, the school closest to where my book is set, are planning to study the Highland Clearances this term – and they are using my book!

The Ride (17) Book Post

So, today was another high of the Ride. I don’t know how often I had dreamt of it – holding my own book in my hand, professionally bound, beautifully presented, ready to be presented to the masses for their verdict (gulp).

At long last, the parcel arrived. I knew it was likely to come today – a handful of lovely book bloggers had already tweeted pictures of their book post.

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I’ll not lie, my postie took his time today – but eventually it arrived. I unwrapped it slowly, taking in the beautiful green tissue paper, the tartan tag, the Cranachan stationary… even a packet of shortbread! All the while, my son pointed the i-pad camera my way for a time-lapse video. I held it up, proudly, wishing it could stay as pristine and shiny forever. My son pressed the button to finish and I tidied the table and sat down to check the footage.

Turns out he only recorded my tidying of cereal packets!

Oh well. I took a photo instead! Here you have it.

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I blogged a little while ago about this: detail is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to discipline myself to do detail. But today’s book post showed me that detail does matter. It really does.

I’m sure if I’d received Fir for Luck as a hard copy, wrapped in a bin liner and stamped with congealed dust, it still would have been one of the best days of my life. But with THIS book post, Cranachan have gone the extra lightyear, making sure that my book feels like a treasure, something to be cherished and taken care of and loved. As the author, of course I already feel that to some degree, but I’m very aware of my flaws as a writer.

That book, as it slid smoothly out from the package, and accompanied by shortbread and a beautiful sprig, looked flawless.

For those of you who want to know, the usual Quick Catch-up:

  • The second version of the book trailer went back to Ross the film man. We hope to get the trailer out by the end of August. An amazingly kind harp maker on Skye allowed me to use his music for free!
  • I am in the middle of organising the blog tour, around publication date, when reviews and author guest posts will tour around book bloggers’ sites. Can’t wait for that!
  • The Pokey Hat catalogue is out with the three Yesteryear books featured. It’s a thing of beauty!
  • In the middle of all this happening, I am desperately trying to get a new work-in-progress going. I’ll be a historical novel like Fir for Luck, but set in Victorian Inverness. More soon.

The Day Before the Cover Reveal

It’s the day before my cover reveal.

The Paisley Piranha Blog will host my cover reveal.

I’ll be honest – this feels significant.

I’ll never have a first book again.

I’ll never be a debut novelist again.

I’ll never again have a first cover reveal as an author. And as soon as the Paisley Piranhas – the kind hosts for the reveal – press the button, it’ll be out there for the world to see. Hopefully, for the world to love!

 

It got me thinking about the day before.

The day before Christmas: My childhood probably differed from most of you readers. That day was spent on a hill, with an axe, or saw, or both in hand. My parents owned the steep bit of land directly below our house and, in one of my dad’s brilliant schemes (he was famous for those), the hill was planted with what seemed like millions of tiny fir trees. Fast forward ten years or so, and every day before Christmas I was exercising those upper arm muscles, helping and hauling and sawing and hacking. Trying to get my fingers, stiff-with-cold,  into my clammy pockets to find change for all the strangers and stragglers and last minute panickers who hadn’t got their tree yet.

The day before my wedding: I couldn’t eat, which was ironic, as I baked no less than twelve cakes for the reception in my newsagent boss’s kitchen on that day. This resulted in a post-midnight Chinese takeaway binge as my nerves and adrenaline receded.

And the day before my cover reveal? Today I swam forty lengths (halo), looked out camping equipment for departing teenagers who are off to the Soul Survivor Festival, paid bills, sourced some music for the book trailer (I can’t wait until that is out there!) and did the usual washing/catering/taxi-ing. After this blog post I am going to churn out another chunk of my current work-in-progress. I may even stay up late to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics. And then I’ll sleep, ready to keep an eye on the Paisley Piranha blog.

Happiness is…

Can’t wait to hear what you all think!

The Ride (16): Historical Fiction Rocks. Literally.

I was in Italy for a couple of weeks this month.

What a place Rome is. What a history it has. And it brought home to me, in a whole new way, why I love historical fiction.

I am a particular fan of Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries (http://www.romanmysteries.com/), an MG series following a handful of friends in Ostia, Rome’s ancient harbour, through a range of adventures. I visited the site of Ostia Antica with my family and looked at the hard evidence: pieces of rubble in abundance. Lizards – lots of them, to my 11 year-old’s delight. Tiny fragments of mosaic floors, a lot of statues – most with their heads missing.

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My boy explores the theatre at Ostia Antica

 

 

Did I begin to get an idea what life might have been like there? I think so. Sort of. There were a couple of fairly well preserved floors of some baths, a theatre, a fish shop (archaeologists think), and best of all, a pub. Yes, complete with counter, courtyard and even frescoes of the menu (it was after all a largely illiterate society), all well-preserved enough to start me off. From the higher floors of some of the buildings, it was very easy to get a clear idea of the layout.

Ever seen a gymnastics competition? Vault, for instance?

The facts, the evidence and the ruins serve as the springboard. All the fancy flips and twists and turns in the air – the really impressive stuff, in other words – is done in the imagination.

We need the springboard, of course we do. But I see the evidence as a launch pad – the harder I hit it, the higher I can fly. I can flesh out the details, make ruins run with life, make the crumbling stones reach for the sky. Make the static statues stumble and sprint, sing and fear and love and cry. Make a story fly high.

Like Ostia Antica, the ruins of the clearance village which features in Fir for Luck seem like rubble and wreckage from the road. Tired tourists pull into the layby to inspect the information display, to ensure that they are not missing a vital attraction on the new North500 Route. They scan the sign, cast a cursory look down the hill towards the scattered remnants of homes and lives and fears and hopes and desperate resolve. But they only see rocks.

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The place where I imagine my character Janet’s house to be.

 

It might have been these very rocks which were hurled at the Sheriff Superintendent from Dornoch who came to discipline the rebellious villagers – we’ll never know. But unless our travellers take a run at the springboard by venturing down the Ceannabeinne trail, they will miss this incredible story of courage and rebellion. They miss a chance for a triple twist in the air and a rush to the head. Who knows, the score might even be a personal best.

I really, really hope that, like all good historical fiction, Fir for Luck can be such a springboard.

And, for those interested in current progress, a  quick update:

  • We’re finalising arrangements for the cover reveal
  • The rough cut of the book trailer is awesome and being tweaked as we speak.
  • ARC copies of the book have arrived at Cranachan HQ and will go out soon.
  • I’m finalising the list of bloggers for the blog tour – let me know if you’d like an ARC copy to review or host  an interview or guest blog post – I’d love to hear from you. The more the merrier. Tweet me @scattyscribbler.

The Ride is speeding up and I am starting to get very excited indeed.