Category Archives: Me

A Love Letter To My Library

Posted as part of The Guardian‘s Love Letters To Libraries campaign

Dear Troon Library,

Troon Library

I’ll be honest: I’ve been in a lot of libraries that are prettier than you.

But you were my library.

Your ugly, low-ceilinged children’s room was inviting, on my scale and stuffed with books for me to devour. I have no idea what happened to my parents whenever we visited, because all I remember is hunkering down with my new friends: Flicka, Ann Shirley, Emily of New Moon Farm, the folks in Narnia…and when I discovered your audio book section? Well, that was the start of a love affair I’ve now been able to pass on to my own children.

Now that I can afford to buy books, I still use the library. Otherwise my reading would become an echo-chamber of careful investments chosen because the reviewers made them sound like something I’d agree with. There would be no casual stumblings-upon, no cost-free I’ll-give-it-a-trys, no delightful discoveries.

Thank you for giving me companions, new worlds and all my best dreams.

Love,

Julie

Me and The Nobel Prize Winner

I don’t know for sure how I’d vote if I still lived in Scotland, but this is a very interesting article, quoting Nobel economics Prize winner (and former Us Govt adviser) Joseph Stiglitz.

I wholeheartedly agree with these statements:

“One of the things as an outsider I’ve looked at the debate, particularly from the No side, I’ve been a little bit shocked how much of it is based on fear, trying to get anxiety levels up and how little of it has been based on vision.

“There is a vision on the Yes side that I see – what would an independent Scotland be like, what could it do that it can’t do now.”

He’s not saying “vote yes”, but rather pointing out the more positive approach of the “yes” campaign.

And on the issues, I agree again:

“The main issues here are not currency, they’re probably not even North Sea oil. I think the main issue again as an outsider, and not wanting to intervene in any other country’s politics, the question is the vision of society, what do you want to do.”

I particularly liked his point (following on from the second quote) that, by following the American model in education (higher fees), England has become a society of greater inequality, like the US. Scotland has gone the opposite way (no cost to the student for tuition), and it is illustrative of the differences in priorities in the two societies. Likewise the differences in funding the NHS (the govt picks up prescription costs in Scotland).

I don’t see how you can have two such different approaches being governed and funded from the same pot. Surely it will lead to massive resentment from the English about how many benefits the Scots get, and from the Scots that their priorities are being hamstrung by the fact that political decisions on finance are shackled to the contrary English approach to public money and social justice.

Looked at from that perspective I think that, in answer to the question, yes, I think Scotland should be an independent nation.

An amicable split, then? Maybe the Scotland and the rUK would be like one of those divorced couples who get along much better once they remove the stress of trying to live together and constantly comprise their individual needs and values.

“There are risks always in any economic course, there’s risks of doing something and risks of not doing something.”

Further reading:
Canon Kenyon Wright on the The Scottish claim to self-governance and the Road of Fear
– What our UK compatriots will ask for if we stay

Forgetown Episode 1.08 – Don Dismisses The Movers

ForgeTown Cover“You guys are good,” Don Morris made an exaggerated show of checking his left wrist, even though he had long since stopped wearing a watch, then of looking up at the sky as if to gauge the time by the sun’s position like the rugged outdoorsman he was not. Finally he whipped his iPhone out of a side pocket of his grey cargo shorts. “11:49. You said you’d be done by noon!”
Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan, chief moving guy whose name neither Don nor Kath had caught properly, grinned with all the boyish charm that had been making Kath lose her train of thought all morning. Don had come across her four or five times, staring into the space recently vacated by Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan. He grinned. He had no illusions. He knew his wife was particularly susceptible to a cute smile and a bit of charm. He thanked God for it, daily. It was, after the best tool in his belt for getting around her when he’d done something to set her off. This guy though? He couldn’t be more than 22.
“Summer job?” he asked. The boy nodded.
“Where d’you go to school?”
“Penn State.” He had said the words with a reverence that Don noted and filed. He had learned young to spot these signals, local intelligence he called it, and use it to start making himself a ‘local’ as soon as possible. A useful skill in a gypsy childhood like his had been.
Now he took the clipboard from Evan-Devon-Ethan and scanned the paperwork, not really seeing it. Instead he was running through a mental list of college mascots. Penn State. Penn State. Ah, there it was.
“Nittany Lions!” he flashed a grin at the boy, who beamed. What else? Oh. Best not to mention the football team, after it’s recent “troubles”. That’d be a sore spot and this kid looks like he might have been hoping to play on a Championship team. Oh well. What then? In a last, heroic lunge, Don plucked the school fight song from some unused corner of his mind.
“Fight on, State,” he said knowingly and received an approving,
“Roar, Lions Roar,” from the proud collegian. Not that it mattered, impressing this boy he’d likely never see again, but he was a good test run for how to charm his new colleagues.
“Well,” he said, handing the clipboard back and shaking Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan firmly by the hand. In one smooth move, he transferred a stack of folded bills from his pocket to the boy’s free hand. “Be sure and tell your crew we appreciate all their hard work.”
Even-Devon-maybe-Ethan looked down at the money with his big wide-open face.
“Well, thank you, sir,” he said. “And I hope you’re happy in your new home.”
It was probably line he was contractually obliged to delivery but he did it with such sincerity that even Don wanted to believe he meant it. It was…sweet. That was the only word for it. Don had been living in the scrappy Boston suburb of Waterville for so long (and spending his working day amongst the Boston intelligentsia, too) that he’d forgotten what it was like to be this close to the south. People were…different here. He wondered how Kath, Waterville born and bred, was going to adjust to all this unfiltered sweetness.
“Are they all set?”
And here she came now, through the screen door, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, all except for that one strand that she always missed which looped enticingly over her collar bone and down into the neck of her t-shirt. Don enjoyed the moment. Kath brushed the stray hair away and stared at him.
“What?”
Don, suddenly, horribly aware that he was far from 22 years old these days, gave her his best smoldering look. At first, he thought it wasn’t going to have any effect.
“I should go and say thank you,” Kath was saying, looking at the boys piling into the cab of the moving truck.
Don grabbed his wife around the waist and held her beside him, feeling the warmth of her body through his thin t-shirt.
“They don’t need you,” he said, low and slow.
“Oh,”
Kath turned to him, her cheeks reddening just a little. She leaned into him and wiggled just a little.
Don pushed her away with a playful,
“Yup. Still got it.”
The smack she administered to the back of the head was, he reflected, both justified and worth it.
“So hey,” he said, looking around. “Now that they’re gone, how about I wander down to that Pizza place we saw on the way in and pick us up some cheesesteaks for lunch.”
Kath screwed up her face, but Don carried right on.
“Don’t give me that face. Those things they served you on the Cape were nothing like Philly cheesesteaks. Trust me, I know. If you’re going to live here, you’re going to have to learn to be a connoisseur of the fine local cuisine.”
Kath groaned and he knew he’d won. Not least because it meant she didn’t have to figure out where to get food.
“And don’t forget I’ve got that appointment with the parish priest at 2,” Don said.
Kath groaned again.
“Yeah, I still don’t understand why you have to do that today.”
Don spread his hands wide.
“I told you. It’s what my mom always did: first day in a new home, you get the priest to come over and bless it.”
‘But surely you don’t need that kind of..” she faltered. ‘Nonsense’ was the word that hung in the air between them.
“You know I’m not superstitious,” Don said. “And I promise I’m not going to fill the garden with statues and wreath the whole house in palm fronds, but there are some things I just can’t fight. This seems right.” He gave her his best big-eyed look. “It’s important to me, love.”
He watched as she fought a valiant battle not to roll her eyes and almost won.
“Fine.” She said. “Just as long as I don’t have to come.”
“Never a question, my love.”
“And don’t sign me up for fourteen different committees.”
“Would I?”




Subversive Children’s Literature

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E. Nesbit was a staple of the British children’s library section and I’m sure I must have read some of her books (as well as watching Jenny Aguter waving her petticoat at steam trains: another rite of passage for those of us of a certain age), all the while assuming that the “E” stood for something like Edgar or Edwin or something equally Victorian and male.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, while enjoying “Raising Steam” by Terry Pratchett, with it’s sly references to “The Railway Children” and the spirited “Edith”, that I twigged: E. Nesbit was a girl?! 1

But I don’t think I really appreciated how good E. Nesbit was, or how subversive.

She does a fabulous job of showing the world from a child’s perspective, by showing how clueless most adults are. In this exchange a small boy who has, unexpectedly, been made king, goes off to fight a battle against a dragon he has unleashed. It’s a pivotal point in the story, because the king has decided to face up to his mistake and try to correct it, no matter the cost. And his nanny responds just as you’d expect, if you think about it:

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Is it any wonder kids stop listening to us, eventually?

I also particularly liked this throwaway line:

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I’m not sure you could get away with that now. Not in the US, at least!

People used to think that writing for children was somehow a “lesser” pursuit, which probably has something to do with why women were “allowed” to do it. But this brilliant stuff!

When I read this (and T.H. White2)
I think it’s pretty clear which tradition Neil Gaiman comes from. He has that gift for seeing the world from a child’s perspective too. And for being clever without being pretentious.

Anyway, enough if this. I’m off to read the book I allegedly bought for my nine year old….

Thanks, Retold Tales, for bringing me this gem!


  1. I was also told recently that S.E.Hinton, of “The Outsiders” fame, was not only female but actually a girl, having published the novel at 16!
  2. Not, I’m fairly sure, a woman hiding behind her initials.

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

Make Stuff You Love

I’m writing more and more in this blog about my writing process and what I’m up to, in part because of this book, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. You should take a look if you have any ambitions to make your creative impulses more than a dirty little secret that you sort of maybe mention apologetically if anyone pushes you.
This morning I sat out on the deck, trying to write a story for StoryADay May. At first I tried to write something short, based on observations of the world around me, because I felt guilty taking time away from the family on a weekend morning.

I hated the thing I wrote.

I mean, there were words and phrases in there that were pretty, but the overall thing? Ugh.

So I gave in and finished a fragment I had started the other day. I knew it had the potential to be good, it was just not going to be quick. But, as my friend Austin up there says, “Make stuff you love.” Really, what’s the point in putting in any time if I’m not going to do that much?

So I did. it’s not a short story. Really it’s a scene from the novel I’ve been wrestling with forever, but it’s a complete scene. “Write and finish every day” is kind of the key point of StoryADay May; the rest is all up to the individual writer. So I’m writing scenes. Not all of them fit into the novel, but they’re not complete short stories, because I’m not setting up the characters every time or doing complete world-building. They might turn into short stories later, or into parts of future novels, or they might just help me figure out the world I’m writing about.

What they ARE doing though, is leaving me energized and raring to go about my day.

I don’t know how many times I will have to learn this lesson until it sticks: writing makes me happy. It makes the rest of my life go better. I should do it first thing every day (or as near to first thing as I can manage) because everything else just works better after I’ve filled my reserves by writing.

That’s been one of the most powerful lessons of StoryADay for me, over the years: that writing every day is something I need to do. When you get this lesson hammered home every day for 31 days in a row, it makes a bit more of an impression than when you just experience it in bits and pieces.

What about you? What leaves you energized and happy and feeling like your best self? Do you make an effort to do it everyday, even if it feels selfish when you start out? (Hint: it’s not). What will it take to make you do that thing regularly?

Writing When Not Writing

Today I had a huge number of things on my To Do list. One of them was a hopeful “write fiction?”.

It did not get an asterisk.

And so it did not happen.

But I did think about the fiction I wasn’t writing, and the story ideas there might be there.

And I discovered another hidden feature of the Mac Operating system today 1 Apparently there’s a misleadingly-named Quicktime Player on there that also does screen recordings. With audio. I’ve been reading about Camtasia (in my PC days) and Screenflow, but completely failed to realize there was a built-in way to easily create on-screen tutorials for things like, say, how to use a custom online writer’s community.

So that’s what I did.

Five tutorials about using the StoryADay community, so that people don’t have to figure it out 2. Boom. Done.

Not exactly writing, but creating. And writing-related.

  1. I used Macs at university a thousand years ago, but from 1996-2010 I was Windows all the way. Moving back to Mac has been painful and four years later I’m still going “what? You mean I can do XYZ?! Why the #$% didn’t they think to mention that? What am I psychic? Is Steve Jobs just supposed to inhabit my brain?”
  2. Or not, and get frustrated and leave the site.

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Stopped in at an independent bookstore today (yes! There is one within 20 miles of me!).

Since I had loved Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” so much, I immediately wandered over to the display of his work, including this one: “Show Your Work”. After leafing through a couple of pages I knew I wanted it. So while I have the other one in Kindle edition, I have this one as a paperback.

“The Tenth of December” has been on my list for a while because, hey, short stories! And it has been winning prizes and every one is raving about it. that’s not always a big selling point for me, but I like the things people have been saying about it, so we’ll see.

The third one I picked up on a whim. It looks very literary and is set in Paris. 1 I don’t have anything very literary on the go at the moment2, and I am going to Paris in July, I thought I’d give it a try.


So that’s what’s on the new reading list.

I have already started “Show Your Work”, which is, in part, why I’m posting this. At one point he advocates sending out “a daily dispatch” from your creative life: if you’re in the planning stages, share what’s inspiring you; if you’re working, share excepts etc.

So this is what’s inspiring me today, among other things.


  1. “Paris: The Novel”, by Edward Rutherfurd. Now that I think about it, that definite article sounds a bit arrogant. And his last name is spelled unexpectedly, which seems pretentious, but probably isn’t his fault. I shall try to overlook these things.
  2. I always have multiple books on the go at one time. Do you? I like to have different books for different moods…

The Many Faces of The Writing Life

It is 12:37 AM. I should not be here. I should be tucked up in bed, ready to get up at an ungodly hour tomorrow and do this all again.

But at least I’m sitting here feeling satisfied (and not a little smug).

Today I had a great writing day.

It wasn’t great fiction writing day, but I was working all day on the many other things writers have to do.

  • By 9:30 I had done a grueling workout (thanks, Joe!) and was BIC (butt in chair) reading lots of other people’s opinions on Flash Fiction. (I’m writing a series on the form and need to interview lots of people. I like to be able to ask intelligent questions, so that means lots of reading).
  • I sent out several interviews-by-email to people who have already said ‘yes’ to my request, and gave the a deadline because I know what writers are like…
  • I organized my calendar.
  • I rescued my poor, ravaged website from the edge of disaster. (This has been a month of torture so you’ll forgive me if I consider the six or so hours I spent wrangling it into shape this evening, time well spent). Not only did I get it working properly again, but I redesigned it to make it easier for the incoming class of StoryADay-ers to figure out where all the good stuff is and what they heck they’re doing there anyway.

Check it out:
StoryADay Facelift

What Does All This Have To Do With Writing?

Well, no, none of this is putting words into my novel or short stories. But all of it helps me to build by network and community.

It’s a lonely business being a writer.

Most of the time I’m absolutely fine with that (and frankly, most days I could do with a little more loneliness!). But there are days when your evil inner voices start telling you this writing lark is just a waste of time and money and that you should stop kidding yourself. That’s when it’s a great idea to have built a community of like-minded individuals who are, hopefully, having a better day than you and who either a, boost you up or b, need something from you (something in the writing line). Helping other writers, or being helped by them, is a wonderful way to remember that you’re not entirely crazy. It’s also a great way of guilting people into reading your work and usually they find something in it that’s better than you thought it was.

So hey. No fiction words added to the works in progress, but a very satisfying day clearing the decks for when I do manage to work on the fiction tomorrow.

And that’s what a writer does, some days (and nights).

Speaking of which, goodnight.