Happy St Andrews Day

Scotland-flagRather late in the day I’ve discovered that today Scottish Book Trust are encouraging READING HOUR – their suggestion is that at 11am everyone STOPS and READS something.

This is a great idea and ebooks or online means of reading make it a real possibility for nearly everyone, where-ever they are.

Remember you can read ebooks on smartphones, tablets, ipads, pc and mac as well as dedicated ereaders.  Why not hop over to IEBR at 11am and see what’s on offer. We’ve made a St Andrews Day roundup of Scottish indie writers reviewed on the site.

Or if that’s too much effort, get online and go to McStorytellers where you’ll find a cornucopia of Scottish short stories – and tell them Cally sent you! There’s more than enough to keep you reading for an hour believe me!

But whatever you do, STOP at 11am and READ something. You’ll be glad you did.

And of course here’s a few wee personal tips.


Want to laugh? Read Jack MacRoary’s blog.  (or download Tales from Tattybogle) Kindle  or epub format 

Want to cry? Read Kirsty Eccles short story Girls and Boys Come out to Play.  Or download the harrowing The Price of Fame

Better than cats?  Check out the FREE section on this site for loads of free stories by Cally Phillips. Or browse your way through novels, plays, imprints and see what else you can find to read. Something for more or less every taste. (And you do have taste, don’t you?!)  If taste is just a ‘label’ then why not try A Week With No Labels available as an ebook  for Kindle or epub and as a paperback .  It may just change the way you see the world.

Can I tell you a story?

What a week it is for things fictional!  Like most of these ‘events’ we only discover half way through that it’s NATIONAL SHORT STORY WEEK but with the speed of the internet we can respond before we miss the boat.

So I’m listing a load of short stories ALL FREE for you to have a look at as well as some collections you can BUY if you can’t get enough of free or want to download onto your ereader of choice.

My FREE short stories: (these can be found by clicking the FREE tab and going to STORIES and or on the McStorytellers site)

A Fishing Line, Duck! Terrorists Need to Plan and Saddam Insane are all available FREE  as well as The Stabbin o’Rizzio (in Scots) from the collection VOICES IN MA HEID and to pick a library themed story Wha’s Feart o’ the Library from the collection IT WISNAE ME 

For something a bit darker there is Kirsty Eccles view on Charity and Child Abuse in Girls and Boys Come out to Play

and you can buy her long short story THE PRICE OF FAME which will  (or should)  leave you emotionally drained.

But it’s not all about me and I want to flag up other places to go and find short stories

The ULTIMATE place to find them in Scotland is McStorytellers – the brainchild of Mr McStoryteller himself Brendan Gisby who over the last two years has tirelessly encouraged ‘ordinary’ Scots (and some extraordinary ones) to tell their stories.  There’s all the short stories you could ever want to read FOR FREE on the McStorytellers site as well as two COLLECTIONS you can buy:

The McCollection is selected from the first year of the site and

The McFestival dozen features the stories which Brendan chose  as McStoryteller in Residence for the inaugural Edinburgh eBook Festival last August.

I’ve also come across a couple of short stories from Facebook this week which I’d recommend

Catherine Czerkawska’s Eliza Marshall’s Tale  and Shirley Mitchell’s The Magic Hot Water Bottle 

And if you want to see Reviews of Collections of short stories, to help you make up your mind before you spend money, go the Indie eBook Review site at the  Virtual Bookshelf  and there’s a bakers dozen of short story collections for you to choose from.

HAPPY READING.  Remember – short stories aren’t just for National Short Story week, they’re for every day too!

If it’s November 13th its RLS Day…

Look, I’m really happy to announce that this is the first Robert Louis Stevenson Day.  I’m a Scot. And with our football and rugby teams the way they are, we need all the causes of celebration we can get right now! I’m not a fan of Burns Night. I mean Burns is good and all that but it’s all a bit sycophantic and over-rated for my liking. And I can’t shake the conviction that so many of the people who BIG UP Burns every January would be shocked if they actually READ a lot of his work or KNEW a lot about his life.  So celebrating Burns the MYTH is something I find a bit distasteful. Celebrating MYTHS in general is something I find distasteful.

For 3 years in Dumfries (where Burns died and is treated as a ‘native son’ – sorry Ayrshire!) I went around abusing my position as Writer in Residence by suggesting that there were other GREAT WRITERS who had as much (if not more) claim to being mentioned in despatches. Largely this fell on deaf ears. When (at a lecture on Barrie) I suggested we rename the Robert Burns Film Theatre the J.M.Barrie Film Theatre there was the closest thing to a riot you’d find in modern day Dumfries!   I gave up after that.  I did my bit through 2002-2004 to promote the work of Barrie and his ‘connections’ to Dumfries (they were every bit as strong if not stronger than Burns. Barrie first went to the theatre in Dumfries Theatre Royal (the oldest working theatre in Scotland) and he went to school at Dumfries Academy. There’s cause to say he ‘invented’ Peter Pan in the garden at Mote Brae. In my day this was falling down. Now I believe there is a Mote Brae Trust which is trying to rescue it finally!  I’m no longer resident in D & G so I don’t have that much info and have to do my ‘promotion’ from a distance.   I’ve just published my Omnibus edition of The Admirable Crichton (and my own updated version DOWN THE LINE) as an ebook to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 100th anniversary celebrations I organised in Dumfries.  I was active in 2004 on the 100th anniversary of Peter Pan (and have 2 years to find my resources from that to re-publish!) And I still say that there are many great writers in D & G who have been overlooked and ignored. I do what I can to rectify this. It’s part of my ‘personal’ journey if you like.

And this is what really brings me to the point about Robert Louis Stevenson (and his first DAY) . I have a claim to fame in that I can say I’ve slept in his bedroom. ( Was babysat on occasions by the owners of 17 Heriot Row, in the 70’s  and slept in his room – I’m guessing not his own bed, on one occasion.) It gave me a personal reason to think RLS was a cool dude!  Maybe it was the start of my quest to ‘promote’ and ‘reclaim’ GREAT FORGOTTEN SCOTTISH WRITERS.  I’d like to think so.

What amazes me is that here we are in 2012 and there IS an RLS day.  Because when I  was at University in 1980’s Scottish literature in general and RLS in particular were kind of sniffed at. Any GREAT Scottish writer was nicked for the ENGLISH cannon – thus Sir Walter Scott could feature in an English Literature course but Stevenson couldn’t.  Looking back it shocks me that in a great Scottish University (the BEST) Scottish literature was spurned.  But then, in those days we were indoctrinated rather than taught about literature (maybe the reason I defected to Philosophy where independent thought was actually encouraged) and the apogee was Spenser’s Fairie Queene (I kid you not!!!!)  Henry James got a look in (uh, wasn’t he American literature?) but Stevenson was… oh.. like an unpleasant smell.  And Barrie. Don’t get me started. The man wouldn’t get a mention in a place of learning. Despite having been Rector of the University!!!  Yet now Stevenson is not just brought into the canon of English literature and not just upgraded from being a great Childrens writer, but he’s a GREAT SCOTTISH WRITER with a Day of his own.  He’s been ‘rebranded’ as the ‘father’ of Tartan Noir and even the academics have good things to say about him.

Today’s post is kind of rushed off but I don’t want you to think that it’s without much thought. I’m on a personal journey to discover why our culture has to discriminate between literature and fiction and what the discursive reasons for that may be.  I’m doing a PhD on it. Well, not at a university you understand. I’ve finished with Universities. I have degrees coming out of my ears but I’ve finally realised that the things I want to research are NOT the things that academia ‘privileges’ so I’m using my research skills and gained knowledge to do what I’m calling a ‘People’s PhD’ (should I trademark this?)  and the literature/fiction debate is part of it.  My fellow writers may say I’ve lost the plot. The academics will do what they do and say that unless I work within their framework I’m not to be taken seriously.  There is a serious point there. It’s to do with FASHION in literature.  I feel quite strongly about this. RLS IS a great Scottish Writer. He was a great Scottish Writer in the 19th century and the 20th century and the 21st century. He was fashionable in 19th century and becoming so again in 21st century. He was NOT fashionable in 20th century. That says more about fashion than RLS doesn’t it?

So. Fashion in fiction. Something to think about. To study. To research. From outside the hallowed portals of places which set the fashion.  That’s what’s consuming me at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, can I just say HOORAY for the RLS day and for appreciation of this writer. But can I add a caveat. Please, please, read RLS and find out for yourself. Don’t just jump on the ‘fashion’ bandwagon.  Don’t just ‘go with the flow’ and think that RLS is good because you like Ian Rankin.  That’s sort of backward logic.   It pleases me that so many modern Scottish writers claim that RLS is an influence on them/their writing and that by MODERN popular writers bringing his name to the fore means he’s become accessible and ‘fashionable’ again – but READ him. For himself. In the context of his time.  Not because he’s this month’s literary flavour!


To find out more about RLS Day 

To buy the OMNIBUS (Admirable Crichton/Down the Line) on Amazon UK or Amazon US or Kobo (epub) 

Does crime thrill you? Why?

I recently watched the Imagine documentary on Ian Rankin on BBC iPlayer.  I’ll disclose right away, I don’t read thrillers or crime fiction as a matter of course. I worked my way through Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle and Fleming in my early teens, I read some Le Carre and some Len Deighton in my late teens but that’s about it. I also abandoned watching crime/thriller on TV some years ago. I enjoyed Frost but that was the last one I watched. I never really got into Morse.  And beyond that I’m almost completely ignorant of the genre.  So my questions here are genuine. I’m not slating the genre, but we only have so many hours in the day and I make conscious choices of what I like to read/watch of which crime and thrillers  no longer feature. I live a happy and quite fulfilled life (I believe) without it.  I like to read and write about what people get up to in their ‘ordinary’ lives, the domestic ones without all the jeopardy, crime and murder.  Where people are victims of emotional imbalance and where ‘who we are’  in everyday life is what matters, not when we are victims, perpetrators or observers of crime or murder. (Though I know that I’m veering towards crime fiction and ignoring a lot of pure ‘thriller’ aspects here. But as I said, it’s not my ‘thing.’) I’m here to learn!

What interested me in Rankin’s documentary was his writing method. What appalled me was his method of working. It seemed like slavery to me. I think there may be two (at least) kinds of writers. There are those who are raring to go early in the morning and you can’t keep them away from the computer keyboard without making them unhappy. Those for whom, as a fellow novelist Catherine Czerkawska says,everything apart from writing is ‘a distraction.’ And then there are those who need a big cup of coffee, a read of the newspapers and a dash of guilt to get them shoehorned into work mode each day. They seem to look for any and every displacement activity to avoid writing. I’d hate to be one of the latter.  It seems to me that for them writing is a punishment (or a means to an end – money and fame) whereas to me writing is a joy and even at its most boring times, creatively fulfilling. Being creative on a daily basis is very important to me. Whether it makes me money or not.

There are also (at least) two ways that writers seen to write. One is to plan and structure before (and during) writing and work to a framework. Research first then writing. I’m of this group. I probably actively ‘think’ for some years then ‘plan’ for a good year (while doing other things of course) and by the time I start to write I ‘know’ my characters and story well. I don’t even allow myself to write a story till I’m so champing at the bit that I can’t do anything else except work on it! The writing stage then becomes both a release and a relief and a pleasure.  Rankin is of the other group. He loosely collects things in a file where he leaves them until he ‘has to’ find his once a year BIG IDEA for his one novel a year, then he roots through this pile. He then pays attention to what’s going on around him, looking for what is ‘out there’ that he can mine, or connect with. He goes to a funeral when he should have started his first draft and that gives him the idea to start the novel writing about a funeral. It’s a bit haphazard for my liking.

When he actually gets down to writing he seems to flounder a lot of the way. He doesn’t often know what’s happening next. (Or so he says. I’m never sure about the veracity of this approach, I wonder if it’s like school where people all say ‘I never revise’ because it makes them look a) cool and b) clever.)  But assuming he’s telling the truth, I find this vaguely unsettling. One of the reasons I stopped reading/watching crime/thrillers was that I got pissed off when I discovered that however hard I was looking for ‘clues’ in the text I probably wouldn’t get them because the writer didn’t necessarily know themselves till the end. It seemed pointless to me to be looking for something I couldn’t find.  Maybe I’m looking for the wrong thing though.  This was one insight I got from the documentary.  It’s not just about trying to make sense of the ‘murder’ (or crime or whatever) it’s an insight into a wider world. Rankin pointed out that for him writing  is a way of him making sense of the world around him. His writing works out a problem and he ‘gives’ this problem to a familiar character who is the reader’s conduit to the issues.  I’d never thought of it this way. It’s certainly not how I write, but it does explain why one would write series fiction.  However, having the same old familiar character being the same old mouthpiece for life’s thorny issues just seems too limiting and frankly too boring for me as a writer.  It also led me to wonder whether Rebus was just a channel for things Rankin might like to say but wouldn’t like or dare to say in his own voice.  Through Rebus he explores what he thinks about the world and then he lets Rebus tell us, allowing him to be more controversial than Rankin would feel comfortable being. I may be wrong, that’s just my opinion based on what I saw.

Generally, throughout the programme most of Rankin’s life as a writer turned me right off (not him, just writing!) I wouldn’t write if it was like this. I wouldn’t want to. It’s like slavery. Or punishment.  Whereas he has ONE big idea a year, I fight off ‘good’ ideas for stories on a weekly basis (well, okay maybe a monthly basis now I’ve been writing professionally for 20 years). I’m constantly thinking about many characters, many plots, many issues and how to bring them all together. For me writing is, and has always been, primarily about being creative. About trying to explore the world in a range of different ways but not always thinking that my perspective has any value or primacy.  It seems to me that I write to find out about other people and the world and Rankin writes to find out about himself and the world. (Again, opinion only, not criticism.)

And I wonder if that’s a male/female thing. That a man sees his own perspective as the ‘most important’ and dominant whereas a woman is more flexible. She can put herself in other people’s shoes more easily (a sort of emotional multi-tasking if you will) and so her fiction is essentially different. I’ve never thought of this before and I’m not sure I believe it, but I’m looking for discussion on this issue so I thought I should throw out something contentious! I know ‘virtually’ both male and female crime/thriller writers and I’m interested to hear their views.

So, my question for discussion is: why do we write and why do we read crime/thriller fiction.

(The subsidiary question – how do we write – is one I’m going to tackle in a blog post for Authors Electric on 4th December  – I’m planning ahead!)

Child Abuse… why?

This discussion links with the Indie eBook special review available HERE 

Feel free to join the discussion/comments on this site, that site or both sites!

Confronted with stories such as Girls and Boys come out to Play and The Price of Fame, (both published in the wake of the Jimmy Savile ‘scandal’ by Kirsty Eccles) I imagine people in their droves responding: I don’t want to read about child abuse. Wouldn’t it just be rubbernecking? Wouldn’t it suggest I have an unnatural interest in the subject?

I’m sure there are a hundred reasons why people don’t want to read stories about child abuse. I myself find the concept of ‘misery memoir’ quite distasteful BUT equally, when ‘scandals’ such as the Jimmy Savile one come out I begin to think that there is so much sex abuse going on all over the place that we need to bring it out of the closet and TALK about it. And one way of doing this is to WRITE about it and one way of writing about it is to write it as FICTION.

Why choose fiction? Perhaps  the story is too painful for the writer to admit? It may be a ‘survivor’ story.  A person trying to make sense out of their personal experience but without the courage to stand up and bare all.  This in itself may have a therapeutic value for the writer who has not  been ‘believed’ in ‘real’ life.  But fiction has to do something for the reader too doesn’t it?

So let’s remember, writers have skills and can use these skills in a number of ways.  For me, one strength of fiction is that it can  take the personal and universalise it. It can show themes and patterns and structures and in doing so create a narrative which is ‘fiction’ but in fact represents more than ‘one experience’ and in doing so asks questions or shows aspects of a society as a whole. Because those ‘personal’ stories can get lost as ONE PERSON’S experience. Fiction can provide a way for us to appreciate that a character may represent a whole bunch of people. That’s what the Price of Fame is about – showing people that there are many, many victims of child sex abuse, not just by one celebrity, not just by many celebrities, but by a whole range of people who are ‘in power’ however that ‘power’ is defined. It doesn’t have to be defined by conventional ‘celebrity’ it is insidious and pervasive within the ordinary domestic experience of many many people.  And that’s something that is unpleasant to think about. Unpleasant to read.  But isn’t it time we all grew up a bit and took a close look at some of the unpleasant things we usually try to avoid.

Of course you wouldn’t read child abuse fiction for escapism. This doesn’t mean you are reading it for titillation. But I suggest the reason to read either fiction or fact about child sex abuse is either that you need to learn about it because you HAVEN’T been abused and so don’t really understand the complexity of the emotions which are involved and the life changing damaging consequences of such abuse, or because you HAVE been abused and you want some validation or a feeling that you are not alone and most importantly not to BLAME for the abuse you suffered.

You don’t have to dig very far to find fiction which deals with child sex abuse. We do need to read about it. We need to think about it. We need to talk about it and we need to work out how to DO something about it!

I asked a number of writers who have reviewed work on IEBR to give some insight into why Child Abuse featured in their work.  For their responses and the WHOLE ARTICLE click HERE after 10am

Please note that Kirsty Eccles short story GIRLS AND BOYS COME OUT TO PLAY and the longer story THE PRICE OF FAME are both available FREE today.  (Girls and Boys is free in perpetuity, but The Price of Fame is on a special free offer for 7th November)

The Price of Fame is available for Kindle at Amazon UK and Amazon US

Girls and Boys Come out to Play is available on McStorytellers site. 

Opinions welcomed!

I’ve started an ongoing discussion section about WHY WE READ AND WHY WE WRITE? It’s open to writers and readers to comment.

The first one was HALLOWEEN BUT WHY? and looked at why we like scary stories. It’s been pretty successful this far and sparked a lot of interest and comment. You can add your comment to the debate by going to LET’S TALK

The second one will come up tomorrow 7th November and will be about why we read/write stories of abuse.  Again, it’ll be on the discussions section and will link with an IEBR review blog on Child Abuse in Fiction.  Several writers talk about why they’ve used abuse as a theme or central part of their work. Go to http://indieebookreview.wordpress.com  on 7th November from 10am to join in.


What is the next best thing?

This blog post is my attempt to engage with something called ‘The Next Best Thing’. I’m not sure I fully understand it but it’s a sort of pay it forward and I was tagged by Kathleen Jones  who writes both non fiction and fiction works and is a fellow member of Authors Electric.

The idea is that I answer 10 questions and then tag other writers, encouraging them to join in… and so we go…

Here are my answers:

Q1. What is the working title of your book?

The One that Got Away

Q2 where did the idea come from for the book?

Three places. An ‘archetypal’ story A Fishing Line , wanting to enhance a minor character from an earlier novel  and a desire to explore Cuba (and Guevarian economics!)  in fiction, showing that there’s more to life than materialism.

Q3 What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary fiction -though I don’t think that’s a ‘genre’ as such, but I don’t like the phrase ‘literary’ fiction as it implies one needs some sort of credentials to read it, and I write for ‘ordinary’ contemporary readers.

Q4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

No idea, I spent too many years NOT getting my work made into movies to go back into this sort of reverie. I don’t believe the be all and end all of a novel or story is to get it on screen.

Q5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

There’s more to life than materialism and moments change lives as ‘Our man in Havana’ finds out in 1989.

Q6 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self published. It’s the only way to go after 20 years ‘in’ the industry. Control is freedom. Life’s too short to wait for the mainstream, I’m happier jumping into the brooks and taking my chances. I want to reach readers not publishers.

Q7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Three months (if you don’t count the six months research and thinking before committing finger to keyboard)

Q8. What other books would you compare the story to within your genre?

Not sure that I can. It’s not really genre fiction to begin with and I can’t think of anything I’ve read that I’d describe as ‘similar’ – but then it’s still being written so the ‘style’ isn’t completely fixed yet.

Q9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Che Guevara and Adam Faith (I have my reasons but they won’t be clear to all)

Q10 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s part of a Trilogy in Four Parts. Part One ‘Another World is Possible’ is already written, this is Part Two and the final two parts due some time 2013.

And this is where it all goes a bit pearshaped. I don’t know who to link ‘on’ to.  I’ll add this information as I get it (because I haven’t found anyone who wants to ‘play’ the game. I’m going to link on anyway, to people who I think it would be worth while you reading their blogs, never mind whether they engage with The Next Best Thing or not.

Catherine Czerkawska an award winning playwright and novelist with several ebook publications already available and more on the way. I believe her ‘next best thing’ will be a novel called The Physic Garden. You can find out more about her http://wordarts.blogspot.co.uk/

Brendan Gisby who hosts McStorytellers and is working on The Burrymen War. Brendan’s written an eclectic mix of fiction and non fiction and works tirelessly to promote the Scottish short story form.  His link is http://www.mcstorytellers.com/ (for McStorytellers) and Brendan Gisby http://the4bs.weebly.com/

Susan Price who is a leading light of Authors Electric and writes for children and young adults. She’s written over 55 books and won a Carnegie Medal for The Ghost Drum. She’s writing ebooks now too. You can find her at   http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.co.uk/

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