Friday, 20 December 2013

2013: creative, invigorating, exhausting. How has it been for you?

It has been a whirlwind year.

A rollercoaster in many respects with a healthy mix of the highs and lows that life brings with the rising sun and the falling rain. It was a year in which The Birds That Never Flew was published.

Here's an interview about the writing process that I did with novelist Jackie McLean.

You know all about the building project at Mullindress, but it was also a tremendously busy year professionally too. Here's a interview I did with AllMedia Scotland entitled That Was the Year That Was:

GOOD year, bad year? As 2013 draws to a close, we ask Margot McCuaig, director of purpleTV: ‘How has it been for you?’.

Briefly, what is it that you do?
I’m one of the company directors at independent production company, purpleTV. We’re relatively new, formed last year, and, along with my colleague, we work on creating the strategy for the company, developing our business plan and programme ideas as well as essentially looking after the day-to-day running of purple, including our staff.

We’re a digital company that also works on creating high-end traditional television output (we love a good story!) so a purpleTV day can range from discussing the marketing strategy of our mobile apps to managing the shoots for our filming across a range of subject areas.

I’m also a working producer/director so, as well as creating programme proposals and pitching to commissioners, I also go out and shoot them and write the scripts for the productions I’m working on.
I’m also the managing director of mneTV and look after all our sport and entertainment output. It’s a busy life!

Choose three words that sum up 2013 (so far), from a professional point of view.
Creative. Invigorating. Exhausting!

In 2012, what was your biggest professional ambition for 2013, and to what extent did you achieve it?

The biggest ambition for 2013 was to see the purpleTV mobile app strategy come to life and that it did, with great results.

Our first product, the Edinburgh Book App (Book City), earned the prestigious mantle as a top 20 app in The Guardian. We were a main sponsor of the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2013 and it was very satisfying to see that our product – which involved a lot of work – was available for download for the world’s literary-loving public! It was a massive project, and the process wasn’t without its issues and challenges but we got there with excellent team work and a lot of energy.

There were other very satisfying moments in 2013 – no less the completion of seven hours of traditional factual entertainment programming for purpleTV which received fantastic feedback.
It was a year in which we achieved what we set out to do in both key areas of the business, and learned so much in the process.

How has 2013 (so far) been for you, personally?
2013 has been a year of many brilliant things. Telling stories on-screen, albeit on a professional basis, is personally very satisfying. Taking a kernel of an idea and shaping it into something that is inspiring and creative is very powerful. When you work in the creative industry, it’s very difficult to separate the professional from the personal and that’s because you invest so much of your inner self in the projects you work on.

It is very satisfying to see your work on-screen manifesting itself in the way you had hoped, particularly in programmes like Gothenburg ’83 and Honeyballers, which so many people immersed themselves in. Taking people on a narrative journey is what enables our creativity to thrive, both personally and professionally. The two are often mutually exclusive but in the work that we do they are more often than not directly related. A perfect marriage in some respects…

On an absolute personal level, 2013 has been magnificent. My debut novel, The Birds That Never Flew, was published last month. The book was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 – it was a hotly-contested year with over 500 entries, so to make the list was a terrific achievement. But I still had to find a publisher willing to take my creation to the world.
Thunderpoint did that and have been terrific for both me and TBTNF. It has been an ambition of mine for as long as I remember.

To be able to say I am a now a novelist is a truly brilliant thing. The reviews so far have been incredibly positive and it’s a lovely, lovely thing to know that readers have shared my characters’ tumultuous journey. It’s an absolute honour. The task for 2014 though is to finish the next book, so the pressure is on.

Also on a personal level, I realised another ambition. In less than nine months, from the demolition of an existing dwelling, through to the interior and exterior design, to completion of the project, I have built a house (well, the builders have!) on Rathlin Island in the north of Ireland – a dream of mine since I was a very small child.

My father is from the island and his birthplace has always been integral to family life so to be able to build a home on a remote island, up a hill accessed by a single track road – from my residency in another country – feels like a major achievement and one that I am extremely proud of.

So between the creative successes with purple, my debut novel and the building project, it has been an unbelievably busy year but one with extraordinary outcomes that I will celebrate – if I ever find the time.

Any changes this year in technology, legislation, the economy, etc that have had a relatively significant impact on the business?
The economy obviously has an overall impact on everything we do. Budgets are tighter, clients/customers expect more for less and the markets are changing rapidly, especially in a digital context.

My fellow director and myself were working in an entirely new field in 2013 – neither of us had any experience in the build and design of mobile applications – so it was a challenge to try and get a handle on new technologies and markets, especially as they keep changing. The product we have created is new to market – merging traditional TV with mobile technology – so it was a little bit scary but we just trusted our instinct and went with it.

If there is one thing we have learned, instinct is absolutely key. You can’t legislate for what’s going on around you but you can make sure that you are driven in the right direction if you pay attention to your own ambition. The industry is a precarious one and there are so many variables to contend with but with good support and ideas there are avenues to success – if, of course, you are willing to work hard and accept that the rollercoaster of ups and downs come with the territory.

As to legislation, I guess 2014 is the big one. Who knows what is ahead but, whatever it is. we have to make sure we are prepared to embrace change and seek out and exploit any new opportunities.

What looking forward to, in 2014 – personally and professionally?
Personally, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to work on my next novel. It’s very different from my debut and I’ve been distracted from it by the preparation work that was required to get TBTNF ready for publication. It is my absolute aim to have it complete in 2014.
I’m also looking forward to spending time in Ireland, on my island, in my home; a creative space that has emerged from my imagination. The island is a place of absolute inspiration so I know it will fuel my creativity, both personally and professionally, and hopefully help me contribute towards a successful year.

My son is getting married to a beautiful girl in the summer so I’m also excited about being mother of the groom and reading a poem (that I will be writing for them) at the ceremony.

In terms of my professional life, I’m very much looking forward to working on the ‘fact-ent doc’ that purpleTV will begin in earnest next month – a wonderful story that I can’t say too much about yet – and I’m also very excited about the launch of our second purpleTV app – Sport City, Glasgow, which I hope will be very well received.

We’ve also got a four-part observational documentary, beginning production in the Spring, that I am very excited about.

Fortunately, we can look ahead and say that 2014 is going to be as busy and hectic as 2013 and in the current economy that can only be a really good thing. Throw yourself into living and squeeze whatever you can from every single second, that’s what makes life as invigorating as it is.
You only get one shot at it, take the good with the bad, and make it all count.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

2013, a year of adventure...

The year hasn't quite drawn to a close so it's a bit early to be melancholy and hanker after days that are waving a fond farewell to 2013 somewhere in the distance.

December is just beginning so I really should let it thrive.  I should give the spirit of Christmas time to glisten and wax lyrical in festive cheer, or sweet sorrow, until the embers burn out on Hogmanay and give way to a new flame.  
And yet it's never too early to be reflective and think about those moments that you just know will stay with you, even when the days turn to weeks and the months to another year.
2013 is all but gone. It has been an exhausting and challenging year, with all the 'lows' that life carries with it maintaining a constant presence, like forgotten sweet wrappers in an old overcoat, hiding in little corners, sticking to the edges with a gluey substance that clings to your fingertips no matter how often you try to wash it off.
The 'highs' though have been here in abundance too. It has been a year of summits, ambitions hurdled like munros, memories captured in little petals of exhilaration that press against the horizon in pink clouds of summer blossom.

A lot has happened in 2013.
I've always wanted to write. Indeed, I have always written. Often pieces of nothing, or sometimes a little bit of something that sparkled with a teeny bit of promise; but mostly I have just written and written, a plethora of words, snatched greedily from the sky or the sea, the mountains and rivers or from the lingering memories of the people that make us who we are. After a lot of tlc, and good advice from people who knew when to nudge and cajole and encourage when it was so obviously required, my debut novel was published in November of 2013, this year of adventure.
I'm very proud of this. In the real world I work two 'full time' jobs and writing has to take a step to the side and be ready to push itself to the fore in rare moments that don't involve work or family. I have become adept at snatching windows of opportunity in a frenzied wave of activity. The moments crash like a freezing sea, the impact shocking and all the while exhilarating when the chance arrives unexpectedly from the deep and wraps itself around me like kelp, washing the page with colourful stories that make me weep and laugh and swallow quietly in pleasure, or indeed sorrow because with the depth comes not just the sea urchins but the hollows where monsters often lie...
And so far so good. The reviews by readers have been really positive (thus far!) and I am immensely proud that my characters' tumultuous journey is being shared by others. My creations are being carried, gently, from pillar to post by readers who are caring and giving strength. That is just lovely. The Birds That Never Flew, published by Thunderpoint is available HERE, just in case you were wondering!!
Ian Rankin offered me some advice recently. He said, never allow yourself to lose the excitement of seeing your book in print. Pick it up, leaf through the pages and feel the absolute joy of knowing it is your own creation. It is lovely advice. I never want to lose that 'moment'. And so I will continue. A new book is planned for completion in 2014...
And so on to Mullindress. Otherwise known as betwixt and between, grand designs Margot...
You may remember the journey that, along with my loved ones, I set out on some 9 months ago - investing love and attention in a dwelling that encompassed the beautiful history of a world once lived, a homestead that wouldn't give way but instead rise up and wrap itself around a new beginning, a home built on inspiration, creativity and an overarching passion for maintaining a path for my family to follow, long after the days and months and years that I shelter alongside are bidding farewell in the distance...
The house is now a home. It has pushed its knees straight and stretched towards the vast grey sky. It is  already bursting with inspiration, waiting to share its lovely narrative with the world, hopefully through the words that I grasp with fervour from the windows and doors  that rock ever so gently alongside the sweet smelling sea breeze.
The house has still to be fully furnished, but here's a wee glance at where it is at! It is rather beautiful, don't you think!

This is where the story began, in 2013, that year that threatens to push out its wings and soar towards the stars.
This beautiful old homestead is very much still present! The original stone, some 200 years old, now shapes the future as it has been used to create the surrounding walls that circle and protect Mullindress, holding it against its breast like a babe in arms. How's that for a thing of beauty.
Loads of chapters still to follow as the house becomes a home! The official moving in date is 2nd January 2014. Another year of adventure ahead.
Life isn't easy, it can be astonishingly hard and unpredictable and like many others I'm all too aware of the pain that can bear down upon us with crushing weight. But we get up and we rebuild and live and love and be as strong as we possibly can be because, well because, if we don't do that what on earth is the point of it all.
Happy almost new year all! x