No Resolutions but Good Intentions: Writing, Reading and Reflecting in 2018

In spite of the time of year this is not a post about resolutions. I think the other 3Rs that this blog is based on ­- Writing, Reading and Reflecting are quite sufficient.

However, I do want to share with you some of my ongoing plans and intentions for the blog and my writing in general during 2018.

Writing:

The manuscript of my new novel Settlement is almost ready to go off to the editor and is planned for release in the first half of the year.

Settlement is the sequel to Displacement and, as I’ve never written a sequel before, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite a balancing act judging just how much of the back story to include from the original book. I don’t want the new book to seem repetitive to those who’ve read the first one, but neither do I want it to be necessary to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second.

And, as far as writing about my writing here on the blog goes, I plan to continue doing occasional posts on the process of writing, on my works-in-progress, and on my wider writing life.

 

Reading:

I certainly intend to keep reading throughout 2018. I believe it’s vital for writers to be readers too, but even if I gave up writing tomorrow – can’t imagine that happening – I’ll still be reading on my deathbed.

I will also continue to post reviews of books I’ve particularly enjoyed as, apart from wanting to share the love of good books, I also like to do my bit to help my writing colleagues get their work in front of readers. And I find that putting together a review – figuring out what worked in a book and why – helps me improve my own writing skills.

 

Reflecting:

And finally, I also intend to continue to do the occasional reflective post on topics I find myself thinking about and want to explore with readers of the blog. These topics may or may not be directly related to books – but will of course involve writing.

 

Question Time:

I also plan in 2018 to do a bit of a content/function audit of this blog and of my two author websites. As part of that I’d like to seek your much valued and appreciated opinions on various writing/blog related things.

And, as there’s no time like the present I’ll get started on that right away –

Question: I’d be interested to know your opinion on author newsletters. Do you sign up to them and if you do, do you read them? Are you prompted to buy an author’s latest book when you read about it in their newsletter or to respond to offers – such as free short story?

And finally I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.

Breaking Down the Barriers Between Science and the Arts with @SAWTrust

Just before I started to write this post, I was listening to the Andrew Marr Show on BBC Radio 4. The panel of expert guests had been invited to discuss science. Specifically, in a programme entitled From Darwin to Big Data, they were asked to consider whether scientists have failed to communicate their work to the wider public, including specifically to children. And along with that, they were also asked to consider how science is not just a set of logical and rational facts, but that it also links into ‘real’ life. One of the panellists was Richard Dawkins, and he said he’d like to see a more integrated approach to science education and education in general. He said that science should be seen as poetic, soulful and spiritual and as something that’s aesthetically pleasing.  I agree with him.

By one of life’s weird coincidences I recently had the chance to work with the SAW Trust. This amazing charitable organisation shows children, not only the wonders and practicalities of science, but also its connection with the emotional and artistic parts of life. And it does this by bringing together teams of scientists, artists and writers.

Here’s how the SAW (Scientists, Artists &Writers) Trust describes itself on itself on its website

The science, art and writing initiative breaks down traditional barriers between the arts and sciences.

Through creative use of science in the classroom, SAW inspires artistic and scientific endeavour. Children realise that science and the arts are interconnected – and they discover new and exciting ways of looking at the world.

SAW projects are accessible to all ages and abilities. They stimulate exploration, enquiry and creativity.

And they are fun!

And so it was that one day in June, I found myself back at primary school. I was there as part of team along with a scientist and an artist.

I spent the day in the primary six class (eleven-year-olds) at Canal View Primary school in Edinburgh. I was there as a writer, but as a writing tutor rather than as a novelist, and I was there because of an opportunity provided by the SAW Trust and Edinburgh University.

Before the SAW day itself, I’d already attended a training day at the university, followed by a planning meeting with the artist, scientist and class teacher I’d be working with.

The SAW way is that each team chooses a scientific topic, concept or idea on which to base the day. The scientist starts the day off by introducing the chosen topic via a set of activities that all the children in the class take part in. The artist then picks up the topic and uses it to allow the children to create topic-related artwork and finally the writer completes the day by getting the children to respond in writing to what has been experienced and learned throughout the day.

The topic our team decided on was DNA.

First, having been introduced to the concept of DNA via a short, concise and accessible video clip, the children extracted DNA from strawberries. The children were completely engaged throughout and seemed impressed by the foamy, stringy goo that is strawberry DNA. I was equally (if not more) impressed.

Then it was the artist’s turn to lead the activities. The class worked in small groups and each group produced a model of a section of DNA. The sections were then joined together in the double-helix formation of DNA and the long string was hung up across the classroom ceiling.

And finally, it was my turn. After a brief and stimulating discussion with the children about what we’d done so far and some examples from me, the children worked in pairs to produce poems – some rhyming, some not – that expressed their reflections on what they’d learned and how they’d learned it.

At the end of the day, the children applauded and thanked all three of us visiting practitioners and told us they’d ‘had the best day ever’.

I certainly shared that sentiment – also having had an exhausting, but brilliant day.

So thank you SAW Trust and Edinburgh University, and thanks too to Graham the artist, and Daniel the scientist – but most of all – thanks to Mrs M and her wonderful P6 class.

It was a wonderful opportunity and a great day.

 

Amazon Academy for Authors

It’s all very well writing a book and getting it published but it’s not going to find any readers without some well planned and targeted marketing. And like many authors, the whole selling and marketing thing is something I find difficult. It’s not only reaching potential readers that’s daunting, but also how to find the time to do it – especially when I’d rather be writing.

So a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to get the chance to spend the day at a free marketing information event for authors held in Edinburgh’s International Conference Centre.

It was sponsored and run jointly by Amazon and by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) and it was excellent. I certainly learned a lot about marketing and can see I need to take a fresh look at what I do in this respect.

As well as the welcome and introduction from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) UK head, Darren Hardy, and author and ALLI representative, Paul Teague, there were four main sessions – and a free lunch.

The programme was as follows:

  • Making a Book
  • How to Write a Bestseller
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Making it Happen – The Business of Being an Author.

All the sessions were well judged as to length and content and all proved informative. The suggestions as to how to best go about marketing were also feasible, sensible and realistic. It was especially reassuring that all the experts who spoke at the event presented their views as based on their personal experience of what works and on their preferred way of working. There was no one right way, one true path, or one size fits all preaching. And because of that it’s probably safe to say that all the delegates got something out of the day that they could take away and use.

I particularly liked and related to author, Linda Gillard’s experience and advice, but also got something from the contributions made by Kindle’s Darren Hardy, and authors Paul Teague, Murray McDonald, Steven McKay and Harriet Smart.

It was good to hear ALLi getting so many favourable mentions throughout the day too. They are a fantastic organisation for authors to belong to and worth every penny of the membership fee.

My advice to fellow authors is that if you get the chance to attend a similar event, go for it. I’d be interested to hear from fellow authors how they feel about marketing and if you’ve attended any training events like the one above. Do leave your comments below.

And, a question for book readers: How do you find out about books you might enjoy reading and what is your preferred method for doing so?

As for me – I’m off to completely rework my marketing plan…

Writing News: January 2017

Some writing success:

I’m a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and yes, living in the Scottish Highlands, I certainly take the definition of a ‘country’ membership to its limits. I originally joined the club about seventeen years ago when I lived in the city, and when I relocated up north I wanted to keep my connection to this lovely group of writers. I don’t get to meetings, but I do catch up with fellow members at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers and by maintaining my membership I get to enter the club’s annual competitions.

This year I was challenged by a fellow member to enter in categories outside my writing comfort zone. So as well as the short story competition (still to be adjudicated) which I always have a go at, I decided to give the poetry and the article competitions a go.

And amazingly I had some success! I got third place and a commended for my two poetry entries and I came second in the article competition.

It was good to take on the challenge of writing in different formats from my more usual genre of novel writing, and although i found the poetry writing especially difficult, I’m pleased I did.

The article competition was judged by Anne Hamilton the editor of online magazine Lothian Life and entrants had to write an article that would be suitable for the magazine’s readership. I wrote about my six favourite Edinburgh parks – what they have to offer and why they mean so much to me. Since the article will soon be published in the magazine, I won’t publish it here on the blog just yet.

But I’m happy to share the poems with you. Both were inspired by the landscape and nature of the Scottish Highlands.

 

Sea Eagle

Cliff-soaring, loch-skimming,

Thermal-riding, high-gliding,

Mighty-winging, eye-spying,

Fell-swooping, fish-scooping,

Jaw-dropping, show-stopping,

White-tailed eagle.

 

The Long View

Breath-stealing, steep climb,

Slippery scree and wild wind

Threaten the balance.

High plateau, broad view

Ancient granite mountains

Set a scene of possibilities.

Perspective changing,

Universe overarching, and

Myself, regrounding.

(Both poems are Copyright © of Anne Stormont and cannot be reproduced or shared without permission and attribution)

images are from shutterstock.com

 

November Writing News

its-time-to-inspire

November is turning out to be a busy month for me. There’s lots of writing and writing-related work to be done. And I’m really looking forward to it all.

So what’s on? See below…

As well as the final push to complete the first draft of the novel-in-progress, I have both teaching and author talk commitments.

The librarian at my local library in Portree has asked me to deliver three weekly afternoon sessions this month teaching creative writing to interested adults. The first session was a couple of days ago and I certainly enjoyed it  – and the participants seemed to as well.

book-week-scotland

I’ve also been asked to do two author talks during Book Week Scotland (run by the Scottish Book Trust) in the week beginning 21st November.

New Change of Life Cover SMALL AVATAR

 

The first talk is, again, at the library. It is scheduled for the 21st and is for adult readers. I’ll be appearing as my Anne Stormont novelist persona and speaking about my already published novels as well as giving a preview of my new one due out in 2017. Its title is Settlement and is a sequel to Displacement.

Displacement Cover SMALL AVATAR

 

But I will also be speaking as Anne McAlpine, children’s novelist, and talking about The Silver Locket, my novel aimed mainly at nine to twelve year-olds. Folks who come along to the talk will also get the chance to buy my books.

The Silver Locket Cover SMALL AVATAR

My second author talk during Book Week will be at my local primary school where I’ll be presenting myself only as Anne McAlpine and talking about The Silver Locket to pupils in Primary Six. There will also be a sneak preview of The Silver Axe, my planned follow up to The Silver Locket.

All-in-all I’m quite excited!

Click here to find out about lots more happening throughout Scotland during Book Week.

 

Scottish Writers’ Conference 2016

SAW Conference

I spent last weekend at the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) annual conference. As with last year’s conference which I wrote about here, it was well worth the long journey to the lovely Westerwood Hotel near Glasgow where the event was held.

                                 

Not only did I meet up with fellow members of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club who I see far too rarely, (yes, I stretch the ‘country’ member definition rather far) but I also met and chatted with writers from all over Scotland.

The hotel provided a conducive setting for the weekend. Food, service and accommodation were all first class. The gala dinner on the Saturday night was superb. Not just the delicious food, but also the attention to decorative detail––huge silver candelabras on every table made for a real glamorous feel––and the outstanding young waiters and waitresses for whom nothing was too much trouble.

There were a lot of competitions run in conjunction with the weekend and most of the adjudicators went above and beyond with the quality of their adjudications and the level of written feedback given. And it was nice to win a prize for The Silver Locket.

SAW Prize Winners 2016
SAW Prize Winners 2016 – that’s me at the end on the right.

The range of workshops was comprehensive with the only problem being not being able to be in two places at once. I particularly enjoyed the two-parter delivered by crime writer Caro Ramsay on Pen to Publication and Beyond. I certainly came away from her sessions with lots to think about. Agent, Jenny Brown, also gave a realistic and, for me, thought-provoking, talk on the place of the Literary Agent in today’s publishing world.

Caro Ramsay was also the keynote speaker at the gala dinner and her speech was highly entertaining. She certainly lives an interesting life!

What particularly struck me though, was, as with last year’s event, the level of hard work that goes into organising the weekend. The members of the SAW council are all volunteers and put a lot of time and effort into getting the competitions organised, the adjudicators on board and the workshops planned and timetabled.

This conference is always, above all, a friendly event. While the workshops, competition adjudications and the keynote speaker were interesting, inspiring and entertaining, the chance to talk with fellow writers about writing and publishing was just as enjoyable and informative. The chance presented by the conference to share experiences, tips and advice is invaluable.

All in all the SAW conference was pure magic. Thanks to everyone involved in its success.

The Scottish Association of Writers, through the work of its council members, provides year round support to affiliated writing groups from all parts of Scotland. It operates an outreach programme and two annual events in the north and south of Scotland. And this year there is also the Solstice writing competition with several categories of entry invited and it is open to all––you don’t need to be a SAW member to enter. If you’re a member of a writing group in Scotland that’s not yet affiliated to the SAW, it’s definitely something worth considering. Find out more about all of this at the SAW website .

Bring on 2016: Diamond Year

              photo via Shutterstock © Love the Wind

I’m back at my desk today after a two week, festive season break from all things writing. I’m keen to get going on my 2016 writing plans and projects and to share these with readers of the blog as the year unfolds.

Yes, it’s going to be my diamond year, in the sense that it will be my sixtieth birthday in 2016 and I’m borrowing the ‘diamond’ tag from wedding anniversary classification. But more of that later.

But for this first post of the new year, I thought I’d pause to do a quick look back at 2015 first and then finish with how I intend to approach 2016.

The Year Just Ended

On a personal level, 2015 was the usual mix of ups and downs, both at the desk and in real life, but I’d definitely say the ups won and it was a good year. It was my first full year of being retired from teaching and working instead as a full time writer.

My writing life was busy and varied during 2015, the main highlights being:

  • Attending the stimulating and interesting Scottish Association of Writers annual weekend conference in March and having my second novel awarded runner-up prize in the independently published category.
  • Attending a master class in editing with novelist Allan Guthrie.
  • Publishing The Silver Locket, my first novel for children.
  • Being invited to be a participating author in the Skye Book Festival

 

                         ‘Our’ bookshop – The Open Book

But it wasn’t all work and no play. In March, me and the husband enjoyed a fortnight away in Wigtown (south-west Scotland) where we were volunteer booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book, bookshop. This was an exciting project to be involved in as the people of Wigtown attempted to keep this small independent bookshop open. I blogged about it here.

In May we had a week away in sunny Cyprus during which we attended our son’s wedding – an altogether perfect day. Then in the autumn we went to beautiful Galway in the west of Ireland. And of course I also made sure I had regular grandma time with my two lovely grandchildren and timeout with friends and family.

Christmas week was spent down in Edinburgh with our children and grandchildren. High winds, flooded roads and a broken Forth Road Bridge made for challenging driving conditions but it was worth it.

During the year I read and enjoyed lots of books in lots of genres and reviewed many of them here.

I also had several trips to the cinema – I do like the big screen experience – and my favourite movies of 2015 were Interstellar – it starred Matthew McConaughey (what’s not to like?) and told an intriguing time travel story; Macbeth – a convincing and original take on the play and starring lots of Skye scenery – our island was one of the film’s major locations; Spectre – second only to Skyfall in my Bond chart and with Daniel Craig (again, what’s not to like?); and then there’s, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, squeezed in on Christmas Eve. Unlike the husband, I wasn’t a big fan of the earlier films in this series, but went with an open mind and really enjoyed it.

I even managed two outings to my beloved Lyceum Theatre in faraway Edinburgh where I saw two marvellous plays. These were Waiting for Godot with astoundingly good performances from veteran Scots actors, Brian Cox and Bill Paterson; and the theatre’s beautiful Christmas production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with a small but very talented and versatile cast.

                                       Seapods by Jan Hendry

While in Edinburgh at Christmas, I managed to go to a three art exhibitions, two on the Jacobites – a part of Scottish history close to my heart and, of course, relevant to The Silver Locket and another organised by the Scottish Society of Artists and featuring a piece entitled Seapods – two little baskets woven from seaweed, by my friend and fellow blogger, Jan Hendry.

And that’s not all, me and the husband went to the city’s wonderful Museum of Childhood. This is a museum I’ve loved since my own childhood. My grandmother took me there every summer while I was at primary school and it was a highlight of the school holidays. And on this most recent visit I was delighted to see so many of my favourite exhibits from the 1960s, such as the dolls’ house collection, were still on show. I was also amused to see toys from my children’s childhood in the 1980s, such as the Fisher Price phone, now included as museum pieces. There was a bonus, too, in the form of the 26 Winters Exhibition. The museum had picked out twenty-six toys from their collection which represent memories of childhood winters and invited twenty-six Scottish authors to write a sestude – a sixty-two word response to the one toy allocated to them. And there amongst the writers’ contributions was one by anther fellow blogger, writer Helen Mackinven, who had written a charming and funny piece in response to a sledge.

The Year Ahead

Image via Shutterstock © Jakub Grygier

As I said at the top, 2016 is the year I turn sixty. I can’t quite believe it as in my head I’m only around thirty-four. But I do know I’m grateful to have made it this far. And I do look forward to whatever life post sixty holds – there’s a whole post for later in that sentence.

Yes, in the ‘big picture’ sense life can seem a bit daunting at times, what with extreme weather conditions, people in areas of conflict forced to flee their homes, and the threat of terrorist attacks just about anywhere. And all the while there’s the feeling that the people in charge are neither committed to, or up to, the task of putting any of it right.

But I do believe there’s hope. I do believe each of us can make a difference even if only in a small way and I do believe there’s a lot of good in the world – but, yes, that’s another post for the future.

For now, suffice it to say, I have no new year resolutions as such, other than to try to maintain perspective and equanimity, with whatever my writing life and life in general throws my way.

At the desk the big project will be to get adult novel number three written. It’s a sequel to Displacement and I’m enjoying being back with Jack and Rachel again.

And here on the blog I plan to do lots more writing, reading and reflecting.

Have you made any new year resolutions?

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Marketing and Being Mentored

Writing a Book is the Easy Part

Writing a book can sometimes seem like the easy part when it comes to establishing yourself as a writer. Building a readership is much more difficult. It is a hard but necessary slog. For all published writers, the marketing of their work is crucial in getting their books in front of potential readers. Of course it is. We write to be read.

I don’t feel any sense of entitlement to fame and fortune just because I’ve written some books. I have no problem with the idea that an author, like any other seller, has to work to get their product not just out there,  but visible to prospective readers.  But what I have struggled with over the last five years, since my first novel was published, is how best to do this. How, does an indie author author, with a limited budget, effectively advertise their books? Read More »

In The Chair 42

Source: In The Chair 42

I’m interviewed over at Jan Ruth’s blog today. It was fun to do and I hope you enjoy reading it. You can, amongst other things, find out which character I fell in love with whilst writing him and can you guess my favourite word?

Thanks Jan for having me.

The Silver Locket: – 21st century schoolgirl meets Bonnie Prince Charlie and he needs her help.

The Silver Locket

Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops
Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops. Published by Rowan Russell Books

The Anne you know from this blog had a previous life. Oh yes, I’ve not always been Anne Stormont, old bat and writer. I had an earlier incarnation, pre-wifehood, as Anne McAlpine.

So it seemed fitting, when I was looking for an author name to go by when writing for children, that I resurrect my younger self. And guess what? She’s only gone and written her first novel for children.

Cue fanfare and skirl of bagpipes-

‘Bagpipes? Why Bagpipes?’ you say. Well that’s because I guess you could describe the novel as a sort of modern day Alice in Outlander Land – only it’s Caitlin not Alice and it’s suitable for children and––oh, anyway you get my drift––or you will if you read on.

Yes, The Silver Locket is published and available for sale in paperback and as an e-Book.

I wrote it mainly for nine to twelve-year-olds, however, I hope anyone who likes a story with a bit of history, danger and time-travel in it will enjoy it.

It’s set in Scotland and tells the story of three twelve-year-old friends from the 21st century who travel back in time to 1746 and the Battle of Culloden.

Battle of Culloden monument
Battle of Culloden monument

Blurb alert – try reading it in the voice of that bloke who voices the film trailers––it’ll get you in the mood and you’ll not be able to resist the urge to read the book––

The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite cause are defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?

It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.

Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.

And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.

They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.

But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?

And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning  Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?

Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.

Now before you dash off to your local bookshop to buy it, or fire up your tablet to get it online, just wait a minute and I’ll give you a bit of the background to how I came to write it.

First of all of course, as for many of my fellow Scots, the chapter of  Scottish history headed The Jacobites, sub-heading Bonnie Prince Charlie, is one of my favourites. What’s not to like?  A stirring cause, a handsome prince, gruesome and bloody battles, a stunning and dramatic backdrop… Need I go on?

Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland
Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland

Then  a couple of years ago, when I was still a teacher, I went with a class of Primary 6 children to the amazing Culloden Visitor Centre  in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a wonderful museum built at the site of the battle – do visit it if you get the chance. It also has an excellent education unit. There, me and the  children got to dress up as Jacobites and Redcoats, and we re-enacted parts of this important battle on the actual battlefield. And inspiration struck. I had one of those ‘what if’ moments and I thought, ‘what if we were all suddenly transported back to the time of the real battle?’ And that was it.

Yes, the rest truly is history.

 

The Silver Locket by Anne McAlpine is available from your local bookshop – just ask them to order it if it’s not in stock. It’s also available online from Amazon (click on image of book above to be taken to it in the Amazon UK store), both as a paperback and as an e-book. It is published by Rowan Russell Books.