Sunday, 28 December 2014

the brilliant moon is rising

As 2014 draws to a close I look beyond the horizon and see 2015 waiting on the shoulder of tomorrow, its imminent arrival promising new beginnings and new life. I'll be meeting my grandson in a matter of days, or hours; moments that are hurdling the precipice of soon. He's doing well, thriving healthily in his mother's womb, causing my heart to race when he kicked up a fuss with contractions during boxing day Christmas dinner. He thought better of it and continues to pay homage to his mummy, his life sheltered, his heart content, his wee cheeks filling out with each passing day. He's a wee brother for Tommy, a child missed and always loved, and poignantly, he's a cousin for the next in line, my daughter's news creating a stir at the dinner table in a scan picture that shapes all of our futures, a joyful journey that will take us all far and wide, the globe spinning on our sweet talk and excitement.

As I look out the window the brilliant moon is rising, its liquid silver foraging, its waves guarding over the fading light in the sky, its pink and yellow glow resting on chimney tops, hugging what's left of another day. In the street, beyond closing curtains, table lamps are flickering, creating shadows that chase the sun, pushing into an evening where Christmas continues to glisten, colourful strobes contrasting with the crisp frost that has coveted pavements and windscreens and made them its own. We go about our business, inside our cocoons, the chill shivering on the outside as the seconds chase minutes and the hours holler after sun slipping from the paths that we carefully tread.

A flight is lost, a ferry is on fire, families are crumbling at the loss of their loved ones in Glasgow's George Square, and in the midst of all this pain and incomprehensible tragedy we remind ourselves that each and every one of us is fragile, embracing what we have, paying homage to the little bits of happiness we can source in the stars that hover like birds against the highest mountain.  We remind ourselves to remember to fly. To soar and climb and push beyond the clouds and the shadows and cradle the dark even when it isn't ours.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Christmas spirit in the sky.

At 2.30am I was awake and drowning in the business of my mind and the equally intense nagging of gnawing joints that had locked into themselves creating their finest, rigid, RA sculptures.

Aware that sleep and I had most definitely parted company for the night I distracted myself by watching the beauty of the moon as it cast its brilliant light against my stormy mind. The night sky was blue, the palest colour, as if the virgin had unhooked her cloak and smothered us in its scented fabric.  The surrounding clouds were icy-white, crackling in a murmur of incessant conversation. There I was, a tiny fragment, poised on my hunkers gazing at a canvas of my life; the stars and clouds mapping the journey so far, bright pockets of brilliance contrasting with the pits of moulded darkness where the light stole something but didn't quite shine. It was so apt it was surreal, I could press my fingers against the glass and caress moments of magic, or push the darkness beyond the glare of the moon that was stained to perfection.

We do that don't we. Push beyond the darkness because that's the best way, the only way. The moments of brilliance, the stars in the moonlit sky come in many guises; the son who is finally coming to a point in his weekly treatment for a potentially fatal genetic disease where there is hope of management of the illness, a daughter who continues to make me laugh and proud in equal measure, a grandson who continues to thrive as we excitedly and anxiously wait to meet him, a sister who says she loves me because I make her laugh and a best, bestest friend who asks me what he can do to make things better and means it every single time he says it.

After I watched the sky and the stars I watched the telly. A silly, but mildly poignant Christmas movie that illustrated the same sentiment as the earlier moon display outside my window. It was fun and distracting and had me singing carols on the sofa at 4am. It was a welcome distraction but I didn't really need it. Who needs the Christmas movie channel when the festive spirit is in the sky day in and day out.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

the world can be a creature unimagined..

The few people that know me best know that every morning I fire in head first and live for the day, the one I'm actually in, the one where I can do my best to try and make something, anything, that little bit more okay than it might have been. I'm no talking in Nobel prize winning terms here, ah'm no a do-gooder, aspiring saint or an evangelical nutter; but I always take the view that I may as well try my best and see if ah can manage tae get a no bad wee day out of the hours I'm firing into.

I suspect I'm not alone in this madness, sometimes there's a smile or a wee familiar welcome that lets me know that there's a whole flippin gang of us, positioned strategically worldwide, our remit to gain strength from trying to focus on the positive. We're not actually looking for that much, we just want tae have a day that lets us move forward, take a wee step tae something that isn't gaunnae drag us tae a place we don't really want tae go. We're challenging ourselves tae be better than that. THAT. Any of the piss that has invaded the past.

But alas, shit invariably happens and so indeed comes the not so good bits; the periods when the world around us suddenly raises its head and emerges as a creature unimagined and the instinct is to fall in the wake of the hurtfulness of others. Everything gets cloudy, a smog so thick you could cut shapes in it. When this happens the actuality is to fall, right on your flippin face, smack bang into the shit and it invariably happens, a unexplored negativity grasping so hard on your ankles that the bones might actually shatter. A red card, a penalty, an insult to injury. A lesson in life. You bend and stretch and teeter on the edge of dissolution. When that happens, to any of us, we are a fraction away from becoming a solution of the wrong sort. We're as crap as the shit oan a dog walker's shoe.

But we can't be everything, sometimes, to some people, we can't even be anything much at all and that in itself has to be okay and part of living for the day. This day. This day that brings me one day closer to meeting my second grandson. After the heartache of the stillbirth of Tommy every day has been a mix of excitement and worry but the wee fella is doing remarkably well and his arrival is becoming increasingly closer. But it is also incredibly far away. There are a lot of days to be negotiated and prayers to be said as we wait for his appearance and hear his much anticipated voice. He will always be Tommy's brother and a reminder that love and respect are most important things in every day; not the bullshit that every so often creates a stink loud enough tae take control.

That's what today brings, a journey. And tomorrow will bring one too and that one will be even better than the one before.

It's gaunnae be great. Ah defy anyone tae tell me any different, especially me.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

documentary writing-different from fiction?

Writing fiction and writing, producing and directing factual documentary films are different disciplines. To some extent at least the creative processes are poles apart.
Fiction is freestyle; it is frequently an embodiment of the writer’s mind, heart and soul, the dilution or embellishment of people and memories, a complex explosion of inspiration that forms a narrative strand and becomes a haunting or beautiful story.
In contrast recounting a story in documentary form is accurate, its narrative is wholly reflective of that thing fictional writers often stay away from, truth. Where a novel is generated from a seed of something that non-writers may regard as nothing, a doc is a valuable interpretation of an actual moment or event in time. Its testimony is precise and powerful.
That’s one interpretation. However, in my experience as a writer of both disciplines, factual and fiction are indeed different, but they are also so similar you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the elements are exactly the same. Indeed, often the twain meet.
When we write a novel our characters’ dialogue, background and surroundings drive the narrative. We use our personality to tell ‘another’s’ story, drawing from the complex persona of fictional characters to create a sense of belonging and an understanding of where the plot is taking the reader. It is fiction, and therefore freestyle, but that said we are using key devices to generate our outcomes.
Margot McCuaig
In documentary film making we are actually doing a very similar thing. The testimony of programme contributors is the equivalent of our fictional dialogue; they are the characters we want our viewers to engage and emphasise with. Similarly, the voice-over and film cutaways are our prose, our positioning of place, and as with the narrator in fiction, they provide the context for the viewer in television.
These key elements set the scene and illustrate the testimony in a visual format. In fiction we describe what we want the reader to see, in documentary film we show the viewer. In fiction our dialogue is crisp, definitive, true to the characters; in factual it is accurate, sharp, edited honestly so it delivers the point objectively and as dramatically as possible.
When I’m working in each discipline I use different tools to deliver the same objective. Before I begin making a documentary I will have a firm sense of what the story is before I film anything (sound familiar fiction writers?). Once I have an understanding of the hypothesis established in my mind (in fiction you’re replacing this with plot) I will interview the programme contributors at length, (in fiction we call them characters!) recording their personal testimony on tape, capturing their personal reflections and experiences in extended conversation.
In fiction while our characters’ dialogue is fabricated, in a sense they are being interviewed too, albeit via the writer’s mind. Like the interviewee, the character often takes control, talking to us in long-form, frequently over-telling the story, insisting on providing us with information that isn’t really relevant to the plot, making their point in a long, drawn out fashion that needs attacked with an editing siphon. You can see it can’t you, how the twain meet, factual and fiction, contributors and characters telling stories that you have to step away from, review and then siphon to reveal the absolute essentials of the story.
thebirdsthatneverflewConsequently, the editing process of both embodies the same approach. Is the character/contributor being precise, is he or she recounting the information that’s pivotal to the narrative in an engaging, interesting and, where relevant, dramatic way? Is the testimony reflective of the moment, is it moving the story on? Does it illustrate the context and help the reader/viewer understand the story?
In factual and fiction, we’re looking for the same outcome, a confident story that draws our reader or viewer into the narrative and keeps them there, turning pages or staying with the doc as it moves from scene to scene. In documentary film instead of chapters we have what’s often referred to as the ‘three-minute rule’. This is essentially a device where we change the pace or setting and add another strand or element of reveal to the film at timely intervals. Essentially these moving sequences are visual chapters designed keep the viewer watching and engaged in the narrative. Likewise, in novel writing we end a chapter and compel the reader to come back for more.
The processes are very similar although at a personal level there are differences. When I’m working in factual I know exactly where I’m going, the film is a reflection of the truth and can’t deviate from thus so before I go into the edit I am hugely disciplined. On paper I outline every frame of the film, editing the contributors’ testimony so it is precise and poignant, using a skeleton voice-over until I cut the voices on screen.
Once they are telling their story in the right place, at the ideal pace, I add the narrative, writing it is so it accurately reflects the testimony and establishes the context and scene concisely. The process is tight, focused and most importantly absolutely specific. Then I add the colour, the visuals that portray the story with moving facts or illustrative context. Working with facts is a huge responsibility, equally so when it is factual entertainment where it is your duty as a writer to captivate your viewer from start to finish.
All this really helps when I’m editing fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the edit process because I learned how to do it objectively in making television. Sometimes it’s really hard to delete a favourite or funny soundbite from a film but when there’s no place for it, it simply has to go. That’s the same in fiction.
You might think you’ve written the most beautiful sentence ever written but if it doesn’t fit then you have to highlight it and go through with the inevitable. When I delete a sequence from my film timeline I bid it farewell and I send it on its way with a ‘goodbye’ and a wee salute. I reserve that wee process for TV editing only, if I was doing that with fiction I’d probably lose my voice!
So, often the twain shall meet, but fortunately for me, not in the actual writing process. Where I am specific and precise in writing a documentary, in fiction I’m in freefall, losing myself in narratives that soar and fall and then climb to the highest unlit star all over again. I love both forms; their crossovers and their individuality make me a very lucky writer indeed.

Margot writes fiction and her debut novel The Birds That Never Flew was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and published in 2013. She’s currently writing another and loving the blissful freefall of fiction… She works in television in Glasgow, Scotland, and is the Managing Director of one independent production television company and co-owner of another.
Her documentary films and mobile apps are acclaimed and recently nominated for RTS awards. Her work has taken her to amazing places and she has interviewed lots of celebrities and extraordinary people but she loves nothing better than spending time with her children or fuelling her creative spirit at her rural home on Rathlin Island.
Margot is a womentoring mentor.

This article was originally posted on the Women Writers Women's Book site.

Monday, 4 August 2014

writers...ever wondered if doc writing is different from fiction?

The Women Writers website is a fantastic resource for women who write.

It's a platform for exchange, inspiration, learning, support and writing so I was really delighted to be asked to write a guest blog on the differences between writing fact and fiction. I'm really very fortunate to be able to work across both strands and whilst you may think the two are at loggerheads I find that each discipline helps the other... Aye, strangely enough it does.

You can read the blog here: Documentary writing: Different from fiction?

If have any questions or would like to strike up a wee discussion on the topic please do leave a comment and retweet and share the blog so we can engage with lots of other writers!


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

polari book prize longlist & good company

Writing a novel isn't about a craving for success, it's more about a desire for people to take a journey with your narrative and share the fruits of your hard work, tears, laughter and sometimes even moments of exhilaration. Actually, it's not just a desire it's a need, a compulsion to bring your characters to life and tell their story to anyone you can pin down long enough to take the plunge and read it. Finding people who want to read it can be a challenge and to that end whilst Book Prizes aren't everything they open people's eyes - fresh eyes - eyes that one minute were unaware of your existence and then suddenly your novel title is dancing in front of them, asking, no challenging new readers to come forward and, well, read and laugh and cry and take that journey with you.

I'm thrilled therefore, to have made the Longlist for the Polari First Book Prize 2014. It's a fine list and I'm on it, woo hoo! Previous winners have been awesome writing talent and to be in the fray along with people like Pippa Goldschmidt is really exciting. Pippa was also shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 (she came second in the end) so it's really lovely to see our writing being recognised across the field. Following the competition Pippa was published by Freight, and myself by the lovely ThunderPoint publishing who were keen to take a chance on a wee unknown such as myself. I'm really grateful to them for putting their trust in me and my Birds That Never Flew as they are doing their best to get off the ground and spread their wee wings.

One other exciting thing. Kerry Hudson, whose writing is exquisite and adorable, made the shortlist of the Polari in 2013. How good is that for keeping outrageously talented company. A happy day.

The shortlist will be announced on the 8th of September and the winner on the 8th of October. Exciting times and the best thing is I already feel like a winner.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

at the scene of the sweet-sworn vow, humanists & new life

As days go, this was one of monumental status, my son Daniel marrying his gorgeous bride Emma, two kindred spirits promising their hearts and souls to one another in a ceremony so rich with love it crackled like candy apples. It was a beautiful day, the rain pissed down (all day) never removing its wee shiny pouches of glittering wetness from the scene for a second. It was a welcome visitor all the same, we totally understood why the rain that had fallen on their lives, wrapping them in the love and guidance of their developing relationship, wanted to be part of such an important, life-defining, event.

Their love for one another was blessed and bound at a Humanist ceremony, the same Humanist Celebrant who had conducted the farewell funeral ceremony for Daniel and Emma's stillborn son Tommy almost two years ago to the day. It was beautiful, personal, funny, moving and extremely emotional. The tears were flowing and the love was bursting from the blossoms in the trees in wee petals of the sweetest pink that fluttered and strayed before settling on the scene. Before Daniel and Emma spoke their vows I took to the stage and recited a wee poem I had written especially for them as part of the blessing. A personal tribute, it went like this...(ach, I know it's not very good but it's from the heart!)

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

wife and husband bind body and soul in a wind-stilled hush

The boughs of their summer-love

Gently teasing hearts that fall and rise

Soaring to salty white sky so worldly wise,

the palest purple clouds saluting the glorious gush

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow
birds sing, a soft song grasping the moon,
the child long since remembered peering from the brightest star
His glittering rays catching golden sun,

where husband and wife become one,

anchoring hearts and souls amid waters strong and far

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

hope soars on button holes and waistcoat
and circular bands  as fresh as wind-driven snow

We gaze as the dreams of wife and husband grow
pledge and passion scattering on scarlet berried

sycamores and soft leaf’d elms that sway and float

At the scene of the sweetly-sworn vow

Those trees stand still, breathing the summer silence

blossoms of toasted friendship lingering in a clearing sky,
black swan clouds ruffling into the distance high

The be-all, the end-all, the everything-all where art thou
husband and wife, wife and husband, sealing their sweet-sworn vow.

The ceremony was sealed with the beautiful news that Emma is expecting their second child and in the new year they will welcome new life, a brother or sister for the never to be forgotten Tommy. It's a new beginning and they deserve all the happiness in the world. Daniel is dealing with a horrible genetic illness, and now we have discovered that his sister Siobhan has the same disease, however if love can make their world an amazing, powerful place then they're all going to do all right. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful family. Being a mother is such a privilege and one I live for. Let's raise a wee glass for all the beautiful kids out there, I hope you are healthy and happy and above all loved.


Monday, 7 July 2014

and still the sycamore sings

Yesterday I was sitting on the swing in the garden in Mullindress a few minutes after a heavy downpour of rain so grey it swallowed the silver sand on the strand and for a moment at least we were all lost in the lining of the clouds. At the end of the din the clouds scattered, the sky shone blue and the sun tickled rooftops, sending pockets of light from chimney to thistle and off on to the horizon.

Just before the silence that only an island hillside can bring- a noisy quiet that is shrill and sweet in equal measure- the rain had pounded on the patio, its words a language I couldn't quite understand.

And then the tree began to sing, its rain-soaked melody cracking the bough of the sycamore, its light chasing the sea spray, its song like magic. There is a powerful music in that tree and one day, soon, I hope more than anything else that we'll speak about its sweetness.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

making memories in mullindress

This weekend I'm making memories. Lots of them. I'm snaring everything that moves and stocking it up, packing as much as I can into the soles of my shoes and the salty roots that are snaking below the foundations of Mullindress. Now don't be thinking I'm greedy, these moments aren't all for me, I'm going to share them, and one day my children will pass them out like playing cards, photographs of the past shuffling from their hands to the chosen others, past meeting present and continuing to grow and forage into the ether.

I'm with mum and dad for the weekend, their first stay in the new house at Mullindress. They brought the past in through the tall glass doors, my dad shaking 80 years of his own memories from his shoulders before peeling off his overcoat and unfurling the recollections of his parents too, decades that stretch far into the distance and yet all the while crossed the threshold of my door mat last night.

Readers of this blog will know that my house at Mullindress has been built from hard work, passion and a love of my heritage. Dad was born in the house that guards us from it sentry point a few hundred yards up the single-track road, mum travelled with him to the island for the first time more than 60 years ago, and together they walked the treads of Mullindress's paths and enjoyed the craic within the framework of walls constructed in another time, which are now of the same place.

"The dresser was just there on that back wall" says dad, "we had a right laugh listening to all the old stories" says mum.

Their stories, our stories, forever-more stories. Memories made and shared and blessed by the sun rising from the east.

Monday, 28 April 2014

I'm up, on the writing blog tour

Readers, for this post you'll need to put your outdoor shoes on. We're going on a journey, well, not so much a journey, more of a tour. A 'writing blog tour'. Not everyone likes these little pockets of me, me, me wisdom but I love their charm and character, they are a fascinating insight into writing, or more specifically the writing processes of writers. It's like a really posh nosiness, a kind of 'come dine with me' snoop in the bedroom with drama that's not on the stove but in the fingertips of those who cook words and scenarios rather than dinner.

Don't get me wrong, writers eat too but we make an awful lot of things up so an actual come dine with me would most definitely involve some level of fabrication as part of its preparation and delivery. The pastry wouldn't emerge from the simple process of opening a paper bag of flour. The story would more likely begin in the pocket of a battered leather saddle-bag, on the back of a donkey in a partially ploughed field, on a thinly populated island inaccessible by anything other than a bi-annual boat trip. Or something like that..

Okay, for those of you not sure of what is about to whet your appetite, here's how it works. A writer, who has been nominated by another person of words, answers four questions that are designed to reveal something about the inner sanctum of the writers' writing and writing processes. I was nominated by Paul Cuddihy who is a prolific writer of some four published books and he's working on another. He's also really proactive and is incredibly passionate about his love for writing. His enthusiasm gives me a wee shake when I need it. This is one such shake.

Before I answer the questions on the menu, you can read Paul's very well constructed responses to the blog tour HERE.

And to the questions.

What am I working on?
I'm working on my second novel. The process is one of absolute joy and excitement, the kind of all-encompassing satisfaction that makes sense of why I was put on this earth and reminds me of why I write. But then, as is always the case, such moments of joy are always compounded, sometimes just moments later, with sheer panic, a key-stone cop crisis of confidence that has me physically lunging, hopscotching out my despair in comedy, spindly legged fashion.

Drama folks, is definitely part of the writing deal.

Fortunately I don't panic (other than in the actual moment, which is admittedly, quite panicky) as I understand that uncertainty is a part of the process and always, always the way forward emerges. I guess I'm lucky in that I work in a creative environment and I have learned to trust my instincts and believe in my ability to let the right outcome emerge in it's own time. It aye does and it's lovely when it does.

Anyway, the novel, which I won't say too much about for now, has been as long as 35,000 words and is now a little over 15,000. Much of what I had written was telling me what the story was, now I need to show the reader how the narrative and characters will illustrate it. The scythe has been swung and I'm seeing the beauty beneath.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is actually a difficult question to answer as it's not easy to be truly original when writing fiction as characters are always in some respects familiar to the reader, no matter how unique we as writers try to make them. However, I can say that my work is different from others in this genre because I stay true to the characters, I let them be themselves and dictate their journey. It's their narrative and that in itself must equate to difference, no?

My first novel, The Birds That Never Flew featured the Virgin Mary, not as you might think of her, if indeed you have ever thought about thinking of her, but as a young Glaswegian with a local twang and attitude that doesn't hold back. Her 'language' was in some respects her strength, it allowed her to illustrate Elizabeth's vulnerability (the narrator of the story) with a toughness that might not have been as compelling in another tongue. In my new novel, language, or at least an interpretation of it, is a key component of the relationship between two of the central characters, twin brother and sister Barra and Rathlin. I don't want to say too much about it but sometimes language isn't always about talking and that in itself can make the narrative, and the body of the work, different from anything else that is out there.

Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because I believe that the stories aren't just important to me, they reflect the narrative journey of the world that we all peel away from and then just as frequently disappear into, our rollercoaster lives bouncing along with drama and pain and tragedy and sometimes even joy. There's a lot of me and the world I understand in my characters and I'm sure my experiences are shared and that my stories are a reflection of what is to some a familiar and often overwhelming world.  I think consuming writing you already know the taste of can be even better than devouring a big bowl of your favourite mashed spuds (or insert similar comfort food fetish)...

I also write the way I do because I am compelled to, my stories are character driven and they don't sit about saying whheeessstt if anyone tries to speak. They holler, I listen and then I do my best to capture what they are saying.

How does my writing process work?
Probably not in the most efficient way. I tend to write a little blind, I know roughly what my hypothesis is (although that seems a little crude) and who my key characters are and then I start to write. I'll have an absolute sense of who my protagonists are and what their story is, but I let them drive the narrative as we go along, giving some of the plot responsibility to them. This process means that characters develop on the road and their outcomes alter or emerge completely differently. For example, I always knew Elizabeth's story in The Birds That Never Flew and I always knew that Mary would impact on her life as she carried out her quest for 'revenge' but the other key characters; Sadie, Paddy, Alan, Larry Spencer, Collette and Laura developed their own characteristics along the way and challenged most of the notions I had of how they would drive the story. It's living a wee bit on the edge, but it's fun when it's working!

I'm doing the same in my new novel, I know absolutely what Rathlin and Barra's story is but I'm writing with five or six additional characters and they are all emerging and adapting and making the conflicting narratives so much more interesting than anything I could have pre-planned. I'm trusting my instincts and the fact that the characters are strong enough to shape the story in a manner which is natural to the people I am writing about. Well, I am at the moment, ask me again at the end of the day and I'll undoubtedly be in crisis...

I write when I can, which isn't as often as I would like it to be, but even when I don't have pen on paper (or fingertips on keyboard) I'm scribbling away beneath my eyelids, absorbing situations that I know will work.

I always, though, start the day creatively, writing a 140 character piece of prose on Twitter that illustrates the world I see beyond my eyes. Before I get out of bed I look out of the window and write about what's in front of me, being as honest and open as I can. It's about seeing what's really there, not what appears to be there at first glance. The world is an astonishing place, if we choose to look at it with our eyes open to possibilities. It's a wee bit twee I guess but it starts my day positively and in my hectic life you can't hope for any more than that!

And that my lovely readers is that.

It's time I went back to my writing and as I do I will pass the blog tour baton on to the amazing Sara Sheridan who will undoubtedly be an intriguing asset to this process.

Sara is a hugely successful author and is the creator of the Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries - a series of 1950s murder mysteries that have been dubbed 'Miss Marple with an edge'. She also writes historical novels based on the real-life adventures of Georgian and Victorian explorers. She is also incredibly hard working so I'm really keen (nosey!) to learn more about how she manages to be both creative and prolific in equal abundance.

She'll be posting her responses on the 12th of May. In the meantime you can find out a bit more about her prolific writing career HERE:

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Favourite books and much more with Paul the Hunted!

My friend, the writer Paul Cuddihy, has just released a new book, Read All About It, a non-fiction work to follow his recent historical novel trilogy. He's a busy man. You can read all about him, and his writing processes here. Incidentally, you'll find a link to a post called 'Blog Tour' on his website and you'll also find that I'm next up. I'll be posting my own responses in the next couple of weeks before being followed by the amazing Sara Sheridan.

Anyway, the point of the post! Paul has been conducting a series of podcast interviews where he has been finding out a little bit more about writers - exploring favourite books, not so favourite books and bits and pieces about their writing.

I was kindly asked to take part and this podcast in the result of a very enjoyable afternoon catching up with an old friend who just gets it. I've said it before, writing can be a lonely experience and whilst that is undoubtedly also one of the benefits it's also nice to chat to others who understand the agony and the ecstasy..

So, HERE we go. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Women writers, #WoMentoring is for you. YES YOU.

This isn't ground-breaking news to most, but I'm a woman.

This isn't actually a problem in itself. I love being a woman, I'm comfortable in this role. In fact, I actually think it quite suits me. However, there is an issue. The problem isn't in being a woman itself, it is in the unequal access to opportunities that we often face, as women.

It's 2014, there has been universal suffrage in the UK since 1928, and yet we women often earn less than men and find it difficult to advance in our careers to the same level as men.

Pah! That's pretty unacceptable and it's a much bigger problem than I'm able to tackle at the moment but I do work away at it, hacking away at barriers and hurdling others when I can. I might be just a wee girly thing but I'm the Managing Director of a TV company, I'm a Director of another TV company and some of my programme making involves working in the male dominated world of sport. Yep, a lassie who dares to venture into that realm. A lot of the time it's fine but even still, despite my knowledge and my 20 years experience I still get "could your boss no make it the day hen" disparaging looks at some meetings....

Anyway, like I said, it isn't my intention to blether about problems, this wee post is about solutions.

One thing at a time my exceptional ladies. Something heartening and positive is happening and it's just for you.

I'm also a writer. A novelist. And let's face it, writing is difficult for everyone. It's not easy to snatch 'the big break'. There isn't someone on the street corner dishing out golden publishing contracts to the miraculous few who managed to walk the path without standing on a crack or splitting a pole.

It takes time to find a home for your writing; it also takes a lot of hard work, definitely some luck and even finance to get to the place you need to be. Finance that not everyone has. And, yep, you've guessed it. If you're a woman it can be that bit harder. We get reviewed less, we earn less...blah blah you know the pattern. It's not easy.

However, good things. Thanks to the amazing and unbelievably determined Kerry Hudson there is now a wonderful opportunity for female writers to source free advice and engage in female support in the form of the WoMentoring Project.

The project offers a hand and an ear to women writers who are bustling with talent but just that little bit uncertain, and skint; exceptional women who can't afford to buy advice. We, as in the WoMentoring mentors, are going to offer that advice and any additional support we can to make the road a little bit less stressful. I'm thrilled to be one of the mentors in the project.

Have a look below and you'll find out everything you need to know about the mentoring service. Please read the instructions carefully and if you're going to apply I wish you every success. WoMentoring is like a group hug with a kick in the ass thrown in for good measure. We'll give you love but we'll also make you stronger. Let's do this girls. Like I say, bit by bit. We'll get there...

Here's a link to my profile on the #Womentoring website. If you think I can offer you support and guidance then please apply! Good luck!

Oh, and if you're having a gander at the #Womentoring Twitter page, please follow and stop by to say a big thank you to Kerry Hudson as without her this wouldn't be happening. An exceptional woman indeed.  So, details below and lots more information on the website!


The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project - from the project management to the website design to the PR support - is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 

Why do we need it?

Like many great ideas the WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers - largely writers, editors and agents - who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is run on an entirely voluntary basis and all of our mentors are professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.


In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn't possible so instead we've tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about how they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be for a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. Selections will be at the mentor's discretion.  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

time is but a blizzard of moments, steal them and run!

Time is magical.

It is magic.

It constantly moves; shape-shifting and dancing, moulding new moments from sandy memories, stealing the silence of sleep and blurring the image into something familiar and different in the blink of a fluttering eye. The stars are lit and unlit and dew falls and scatters, chasing new and existing dreams as the dawn glows. We grow, time washing over us, the colours changing, cloudy silence etching features that bend and stretch into the glitter of captured breath.

My children arrived on Rathlin today, kicking their shoes off in the house in Mullindress and pushing their adult frames into the skyline, their steps natural and free, their spirits at home in the island that has sheltered them year on year since their most formative years. Over the years we have changed, yet the bonds have strengthened. Roots stretch deeper and family flow, chasing the new day like a winding stream.

I watched my son and daughter come off the ferry this morning, smiling as I glanced at time, frozen for a moment, welcoming them home. They will be 26 and 28 this year and yet they throw their heads back and laugh in the same way they did 25 years ago, they entertain time and embrace it, savouring the past but standing up to the future.

When I look in their eyes; one child piercing blue and another grey/green, both reflecting the sea and the sky, I see in them both kindness and a determination not just to be alive but to live. As a parent you can't ask for more and for that reason I am eternally blessed. It's that determination that is going to ensure that the child who is sick will push through the boundaries and walk in the same fields, under the same moonlight, where we have bowed to the melodies of time.

It doesn't belong to us but we'll continue to capture it's blizzard of moments, stealing petals of laughter, heads thrown back and throats open, silence resting in the twilight.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

the big book move, motherhood & kindness

With my new home at Mullindress all but complete (there are a few little things outstanding, such as the BIG bookcase build) I'm preparing my book collection for the trip over the water to their new home in Ireland. OVER that most definitely is, not in or under, these things are precious to me.

Like many other literature lovers I have thousands of books, their colours booming, their words galloping along my shelves, swallowing dreams and exchanging whispers of literary songs that have excited me and made me laugh and cry in equal measure. But it's not all glory, some of these 'echoey' voices have most definitely not made my wings uncoil and head for the milky light. Yes, there are impenetrable books infiltrating my works of hope and genius but I give them their place. An oddfella or two casing the joint helps to keep the balance. 

Again, like many other readers, my collection begins with my very earliest childhood books, including the gorgeous novel I won on Prize-giving day in primary 3 (for excellence I may add, best wee kid in the whole year they strangely determined) about a selkie. If I didn't love fiction before this moment I was consumed from there on in.  I read this book and then reread it repeatedly for what seemed like forever. Until of course I discovered Enid Blyton...Yep, I agree, enough said.

So, back to the matter in hand. I've decided to move all my fiction and my favourite non-fiction to Rathlin. This isn't an 'a-ha' moment that overwhelmed me when the house was completed, it was always the plan during the build process. Before the shapes even began to emerge on the architect's page in my head I could see the compass that is important to me: the sky, the sea and the mountains of my heritage; and my books.

The view ( I give you sunrise and sunset a little bit further down the page) solidifies and strengthens my past, the breaking dawns that climbed and fell long before my own time, and the books define the person I have become. I'm very much embedded in the land that the house has been created upon but I'm also me, a person who gives a little bit of themselves to people that allow me to, and to my books.

This is why I find it almost impossible to give books away. When I read a story, I become so entwined with it that I always feel that I've left a little bit of myself between the pages. I sometimes reread books and when I do revisit a story I open the cover gently knowing that if I'm bold or harsh that part of who I am, that literary flight perfected in the pages memory, will disappear and sink forever into the quiet waters of dawn.

Yeah, whatever, dramatic nonsense...but it is such a wonderful feeling to finish a book and feel that it has changed your life. Not in a lottery winning way but just by the way it has stirred your emotions and made you feel, something, everything, anything at all!

So as part of this getting ready to pack process I've been revisiting some of the titles that have consumed me. I am going to completely contradict myself here but I cannot believe how many books I had forgotten that I have even read (I know, I've just danced about saying how my side-splitting emotions have been captured within the pages) and then there's the little gems that I have completely forgotten I even wanted to read - even though I undoubtedly rushed out to buy them the minute they were published. Pah, I've got a lot of talking to do with myself.

I'm digressing again but in preparation for the big move I'm trying to organise my booky past and future on Goodreads. Bear with me, this may take some time. Once that's done I'll start to pack and get my little boxes of emotion ready for the journey to Rathlin Island. I'm excited by that. They give me hope, and comfort and inspiration. And Mullindress is a home that thrives on inspiration and that's something I yearn for in abundance right now because as much as I love my books, at the moment they are a distraction. A means to avoid.

Sunrise from Mullindress, Rathlin Island

Sunset on Rathlin Island by Emma McFaul

Kindness, as a noun, is 'the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate': that 'thing' we crave yet frequently forget to give is both possessive and resistant.

Sometimes it enwraps you in a knowing warmth, like in that breath-drawing moment when your child unexpectedly pulls you towards him or her in an all-encompassing embrace, kindness standing firm in broad shoulders that could prevent the sun falling from the sky at dusk.

And yet other times it turns its shoulder and  pushes past you, climbing beyond the silence, emerging as a piercing blue sky peering from damp clouds, its brightness distant and consuming, its hush pulsing in splashes of tiny tears that are swallowed by polished pavements and sent back to the weeping faces of angels.

It's there and then it isn't. A moment passed, its possibilities lingering in the shadow of what might have been.

When you learn, as I recently have, that your child is ill, your flesh and blood and everything that makes you love and live and breathe, the impact pushes you to your knees. It's devastating to know that kindness and goodness is out of your control. The path is in someone or something else's hands. I can't say too much about it for now as it's not my story to share but this world can so be so unkind, its colours quiet and stronger than us, fingers of fire moulding handshakes that join and separate as conversations start, stop, and then move on beyond the whispering birdsong.

There are no words to capture this emotion. There isn't a book that can influence change. We just have to ride with the moments and steer outcomes in whatever way we are able to do so. I love books but sometimes they aren't everything. Being a mother is. I shall endeavour to 'write' my way through this wrong and make my story composure in darkness.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

tumbleweed, fractured spine, #WoMentoring & talking mince!

The title says it all. Tumbleweed. This blog, not my life. That's as hectic as ever although Mullindress is now an actual creation rather than a figment of my imagination and the freshly constructed house, each inch lovingly placed alongside the next, is now a home complete with things that make me smile and my heart flutter with happiness. A job, no, a passion, well done.

So what now? Well, there's work to be done, not just the work - work of my extremely busy professional life making telly and mobile apps, I mean my writing life. My debut novel is out there in the world and feedback is good so far, the reviews that have appeared have been strong and focussed and seem to have delivered on my objective which was to write a story that people could resonate with, whether by engaging with the characters as people or understanding a little bit about their experiences. Readers so far have emotionally bonded with the narrative and that's really lovely. Although I'm sure there will be those out there that don't or won't because the very thought of reading The Birds That Never Flew will be of no interest to them. And that's just fine too. Although, be warned you are absolutely missing out... : )

I'm writing fiction again, although at the moment I'm tapping away behind my eyelids rather than on paper as the business of life means there aren't enough hours in the day at the moment. I know, I know, being busy is a rubbish excuse, I always SHOUT if you want to write just write, NO EXCUSES but I'm genuinely bereft of moments at the present time, never mind minutes. That doesn't mean that I am not hugely excited about the prospect of pulling those little sparkles from the ethers and building them into sentences that make the page shine and my spine tingle.

Speaking of tingling spines, I actually fractured a vertebrae in mine last week, as you do! Just another wee bit of drama! A painful experience to say the least but not enough, fortunately, to slow me down for long.

The plan then is this. I'm making an amazing doc film at the moment, a strong compelling narrative that requires my writing skills to be at their very best. By the end of March I'll be excitedly returning to my as yet untitled novel. I've only written 30,000 words so far but the story is becoming so strong its characters are speaking to me incessantly. I'll have a hard time getting them to hold their wheesht for the next few weeks. Be still my chattering folks.

I've also joined a fabulous project created by the author Kerry Hudson. When it launches (in April, I think) #WoMentoring will see a plethora of writers give up a few hours of their time to mentor women writers who don't have the opportunity (or finance) to get access to guidance from fellow writers who understand the creative process. I'm excited and privileged to be able to be involved. Writing can be lonely and sharing ideas and passion can be exquisite. I'll write about this process here and I'm very much looking forward to meeting my writer, or indeed writers.

A few years back, following on from a creative writing class with the fabulous and indeed very inspiring novelist Elizabeth Reeder, I joined a writing group drawn from our class after the tutoring had ended. It was a great thing to do. Sometimes we need another voice, even if we don't always agree with it.

Aye, I know, all that snash about there not being enough hours in the day. I don't eat mince so I might as well talk it. However, if I know one thing in life it's this, if you want something done you've just got to do it.  'I can't', 'I'm not able' aren't really options. I know, my fingers are still bristling from everything I said to the contrary up above but I guess I know that I will write, I'll find a way, even if it is only captured moments. They all count.

I set out on 2014 with the goal of completing my new story, my novel, before the year is out. I'm really looking forward to doing that. As well as talking about the #Womentoring project I may well post something from the book soon, just to see what you think...