Everything might not be alright…or then again…

Being in the midst and mire and mystery that is searching for an agent or publisher for my novel, I feel conflicting emotions gnawing away at my edges.
One day, the emotional high of a publisher asking for my complete manuscript.
The next, a corresponding and equalising low when three agent rejections materialise in my inbox. (One during my middle grade crit group meeting which struck me as ironic. Actually, it felt like being struck between the legs.)

I was trying to find a way to explain – to myself as much as anyone else – what these opposing emotions felt like.

Thankfully, because I’m worded out just now, modern art has done the job for me at the Edinburgh Modern Art Gallery.
You don’t even need to enter the building for this lesson in the uncertainty of life where, across the gallery lawn, aphorisms duel:



As with everything in this life, my writing career could, as these neon words suggest, go either way just now.

The End of Knowledge


Kinghorn Library, Fife. R.I.P.

My local council announced the closure of sixteen libraries this week. Sixteen. Sixteen out of 45. That’s a lot of libraries. A lot of books. A lot of learning. A lot of possibilities. All gone. Vanished. Evaporated.

Fife Council is under pressure, like all councils in the UK. They need to make difficult decisions about which front line services to make cuts to in order to balance the books with the budgets allocated to them. Make no mistake: these are decisions forced onto local councils by central government. In austerity Britain, Eton-educated politicians sign the orders to cut budgets, leaving local councillors to weild the knife, and local communities to mop up the blood spilled.

Can you tell I’m angry?


When bombs, paid for by a government commited to ‘austerity’, fall on far-away communities, destroying what little they have left of public services, then you know the end of days has arrived. I shan’t even bother to work out how many libraries could be kept open for each bomb that falls on Syria, (or how many nurses employed, free school meals provided, care home beds offered…).

The Council talks of “tough decisions” and the need for “sustainable” services which are “suited to customer need”. And there lies the truth of the matter: library users are no longer seen as readers or learners or folk with a hunger for knowledge; we are  customers. The language is important: by turning a library user into an unwitting player in a commercial transaction, those holding the purse strings can legitamise these difficult commercial decisions. Not enough customers for your service? No problem. Remove the service. Budget balanced. Bombs purchased. Let’s all go home.

The fact that public services were never supposed to make money seems lost.

It comes down to how we measure wealth. And in this age, wealth is measured solely in ownership of property. The value of learning, knowledge, reading, talking, singing, painting, laughing, keeping warm by a library radiator, interacting with people…the value of all these things has been reduced, made less imporatnt; it’s been forgotten.

I shouldn’t need to illustrate how important local libraries are to a community, but personal testimony seems to connect people to an issue, so here’s mine…(More testimony today in the Guardian from Fife writers Val McDirmid and Ian Rankin).

As soon as I was reading, my Saturday mornings where spent in two places. We always went swimming at the local, council-run swimming pool; followed by a visit to the library next door. I can still remember the thrill – and mild panic –  of deciding which four books would be exchanged for my four pink children’s tokens. Four was never enough, so this was a decision of monumental, and weekly, importance.

Then, having moved to another county, I discovered the delight that is Romsey Library.wp-1449831832789.jpeg This is the sort of place the Victorian philanthropists had in mind when they decided to share their wealth with less fortunate people and give the gift of learning through their generosity. What a privilege for a child to have this resource a short bike ride away. wp-1449831841319.jpeg In the socially democratic years of post-war Britain, the State took on the role of providing health and education when it still understood the benefits that universal learning (and health care) could bring to a nation.

It wasn’t long before I could swap my pink tokens for mustard-coloured adult ones. I think there was a transition period when I was allowed both; ah, the agonies I must have gone through. Especially when the pink tokens must have been revoked, effectively banning me from borrowing anything from the children’s library. The horror!

How to get round this tricky dilemma?

Get a saturday job in the library of course! I think I’ve never felt the same satisfaction from paid employment as I did back then, pushing my wooden trolly around, replacing borrowed books on shelves. I’d sneak the occasional five minutes (no-one was watching if I hid in the reference section, apart from the homeless man who spent his days snoozing at the table there) to read a page or two from whatever had been returned.

The library for me was a place of learning and a vital resource for someone from a single-parent family. There was no money to buy books. There was often no money to buy decent food. Like our health service, libraries do not discriminate: rich people can borrow as many books as the poor. That is the point. It is, or was, about knowledge for all. Without my local library I would not be writing now. I would not have made it to university. I would not have discovered the joy of flicking through an encyclopaedia for the hell of it.

I would not be me.

I don’t blame Fife council for their decision to close the libraries; with their hands tied very firmly behind their backs by the rope of austerity, what choice did they have? The blame lies squarely with those in Westminster who willingly allow the axe to fall on public services. This is nothing less than an ideology-driven programme to shrink the state, and with it shrink the hopes, opportunities and dreams of communities everywhere.

It is, for many, the end of knowledge.


Vernicious Knids rule! Or, the value of re-reading a book.

I re-read my favourite novel last week. Patrick Süskind’s Perfume has been my top read for years; I’ve read it once each decade since the 80s, which makes my most recent read my fourth. I wondered if it would retain its ranking after I’d finished….it did. My copy is now battered, creased and dotted with damp/fungus/something organic, but I think it will survive a few more reads yet. This time, I found the story to be even darker; more sinister. wp-1448985729763.jpegGrenouille, the orphan with superhuman olfactory powers, intent on capturing the essence of beauty in scent form, at all costs, seemed to have more intensity about him. If anything, I had more sympathy for him this time round, this solitary, misunderstood, much-abused creature. And of course, this is the wonderful thing about returning to a novel after many years: I brought a decade’s worth of extra emotional baggage to this reading, along with a decade of experiences, a decade of reading, a decade of relationships. I probably don’t need to buy any more books now; I can simply re-read my whole library for ever more.

The interesting thing about re-reading Perfume was that it felt like reading the book for the first time again. I hadn’t forgotten the basic plot of course, but there was much that had slipped my memory. This isn’t a great revelation to me: lots of things slip from my memory all the time. And ten years is, well, ten years. Details fade away like the colour from sun-bleached book spines. Rediscovering them feels a bit like coming home.

Having returned Perfume to its place on the shelf, where it is now free once more to culture its spores and mouldy patches (which down here by the sea could possibly occur like a speeded-up, time-lapse film), I began thinking about which other novels I’ve re-read over the years. Not a lot, as it happens. Which surprised me. Tales of the City and Harry Potter I have returned to multiple times. They are quick and comforting and I’ll often turn to them when I’m struck down with a cold. Apart from them though, I realised that I don’t go back to novels very often. I’m not sure why; I’ve watched some movies over and over. Part of the reason could be that I’m so keen to read as much as I can as quickly as I can. Time is, of course, running out! And writers are supposed to read as widely as they possibly can. Isn’t returning to the same novels time after time a waste of time? Shouldn’t I just get as many under my belt whilst I can?

And then I began thinking about my childhood reading. Until I began buying middle grade books in my adult years (research, naturally. Not at all because so many of them are so much better than adult fiction. Not in the slightest), I didn’t own many at all. If any. For many years as a child, the library was my sole source of books, until I had money enough to buy my own. I did have a fine range of younger titles – Blyton, Dahl, and my Dad’s 1950s editions of the Jennings stories. But nothing for older children actually lived on my book shelf. There is a reason for this: the lack of middle grade books correlates exactly with my parents’ divorce. Hence, the library becoming so important to my reading after the age of eight (I don’t suppose the Tory Philistines are reading this, but if they are…oh, why bother? They’re not interested in the importance of culture for the masses). This, then, explains why I didn’t re-read anything after becoming part of a single-parent family: when you’ve only got four library tokens a week, they can’t be wasted on something you’ve already read.

However, those few books I did own when I was much younger….those, I did go back to time after time after time. So many times in fact, that, like my favourite movies which I can almost quote from, they are imprinted on my mind, (clearly, I need a LOT more re-reads of Perfume to get to this level). They are not great works of literature; they might not even be close. But they were my books, and therefore formed part of my world.

And now I’m going to be terribly daring. I’m going to reveal – and this feels like an admission of sorts – that the books I returned to most often as a young child were indeed Enid Blyton books. I must have read the entire Famous Five series umpteen times; the Adventure books almost as many. The stories which really stuck with me though were the Faraway Tree tales.wp-1448985780854.jpeg Pure nonsense they might be, but the images Blyton conjured of weird characters (Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot, Mister Watsisname), and strange, ever-changing lands at the top of tree (Upside-down Land, Take-what-you-want Land), these never left me. They’re still up there. And they still make me smile. It’s interesting – to me at least – that I don’t recall the names of the children who had the adventures; I only seem to remember the surreal and slightly anarchic details. For instance: I only owned one Roald Dahl book. Not for me Danny; or James and his peach; or the wonderful Witches. No. My only Dahl is the one no-one else had; the least favourite; the least well-known: It was Charlie; but not the factory. I was a proud owner of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. wp-1448985854044.jpegI must have read this book a hundred times and have never once lost sight of the Vermicious Knids spelling out their sinister message with their bendy alien bodies: wp-1448985937857.jpegwp-1448985945139.jpegSurreal and anarchic, I think you’d agree. Of all the images from my childhood reading that I have retained, I think Dahl’s Knids are the most prominent in my mind.

Having spent a significant amount of time considering the value and joy to be had from re-reading books, I came to a realisation: one day I hope to see my own books published and read by children. And re-read if they liked them enough. And if I want kids to re-read my books, they are going to have to be memorable enough to qualify for a re-read. Which means I should spend less time ruminating about my historical reading habits, and rather more time writing something to read.

I’m off to see if I’ve come up with anything half as joyous as a Vernicious Knid……


The Object of my Rejection

Another day; another rejection.

It’s part and parcel of all writers’ lives. And as today’s rejection crashed onto the doormat, winding me like a boxer’s well-aimed punch (metaphores you understand…my in-box pings rather than crashes and I think my shoulders only sagged momentarily as I read the one line auto-email rejection), I decided to not let it incur too heavily on my day.

The attempt to carry on as normal was a failure, but the intent was there.

Rejection letters do ruin your day. At least, they ruin a good few minutes of mine. Then I remember the submissions I’ve yet to hear back from; the submissions I’m currently preparing; the submissions I’ve yet to even think about sending. It’s the thought (call it ‘hope’ if you will) of receiving something other than a rejection that keeps me sending my manuscript out. It’s the same thought that keeps me writing the sequel. It’s the same thought that spurs me on to formulate other projects.

Of course, rejection hurts. I would have to be a hard-hearted, mean-spirited kind of person not to feel it. Luckily, for those suffering from rejection’s cruel caress, there is the internet. Social media is platitude central when it comes to dealing with rejection, but try as I might, I can’t seem to squeeze any comfort from them. They feel anti-septic; wiped clean of real emotion; meaning bleached away.

In fact, they leave me wondering if people really live their lives by these words. Some folk’s social media postings worryingly suggest that they might. Am I missing something? What’s that you say? A heart? How rude.

Go on then…see if these speak to your soul:


No…not feeling it.


‘fraid not.


I’m not suggesting a rejection from an agent is exactly a struggle by the way…it’s not. Ask me again when the rejections hit fifty in number.


There’s undenyable rhythm to this one, it’s almost a bit rappy, but it still feel vacant; as if it’s been written by a Hallmark cards copy writer.


Thanks Bo. Stating the obvious ‘aint helping either.


Believe me, I can be bought. Name your price.


OK, so this one cheered me up; I admit it. But only because irony works every time. It doesn’t help me grow, or improve, or (and feel free to shoot me down for this) become more mindful. Of anything.

Incidentally, I thought Louise Brown was the world’s first test tube baby. Is she writing now?

Finally, and only because the internet just loves a cute animal…


I know the mouse is supposed to be doing chest pumps or something, but it still kind of looks dead to me. The cheese looks less perished.

If a photoshopped rodent helps you through a moment of rejection, well, good for you. I need something else. Something to own the word. Something to make me less scared of seeing it next time. And what better way to do this than with words themselves?

Come to think of it, that platitude with the rhythm, the one with the rap-sound…it’s given me an idea for a platitude of my own. Now I don’t need to pilfer off the internet for words of wisdom; I can turn to my own very own reminder to not giving in to rejection.

Here it is…feel free to copy and paste onto a background of your choosing and post and share with abandon. (But please don’t harm any defenceless mamals…that poor mouse…was it someone’s pet, do you think?)

An injection of rejection is cause for objection.

Subject it to ejection; save your writing from abjection.

© flyingscribbler

Self-Promotion….how shameless should it be?

I’ve been busy putting together begging  covering letters for agents. Nothing prepared me for this fiendishly difficult task. It is infinitely more difficult than writing my book in the first place; at least, that’s how it seems. The situation is not made any easier by the fact that each agent appears to require slightly different things from prospective clients, which means each letter needs very small, nuanced differences.

I’ve read tons of blog posts on the subject and naturally have squeezed every last droplet of advice from the pages of the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. They all scream the same thing: this is your one and only opportunity to promote yourself! And the covering letter is the place to do it. Forget the manuscript – or the three chapters of it they ask for, along with the synopsis, personal details, bio and bribe – it’s what you say about yourself that seems to matter. It’s up there with writing a CV and covering letter for prospective employers: it’s all about selling yourself and highlighting the most interesting and bankable quality you have to offer.

This leads me rather neatly – and here’s a tenuous segue if ever there was one – to my topic for this blog post.

Last week I was down in the Languedoc region of France. Whilst there I visited the charming town of Pézenas. This is a town with a past: old houses leaning across narrow streets; pretty squares surrounded by grander maisons; antique shops; artisans around every corner; charming cafés and bistros. You would have thought that these features alone would be enough to sell the town to prospective visitors. However, in a region which is packed with charming and historic destinations, not to mention beaches, the canal du midi, and the nearby Pyrenees, smaller towns such as Pézenas have to do everything possible to stand out and be heard. In short, they need to promote the most interesting thing about themselves; the thing that will make a prospective visitor stop and take a look.

In the same way that I have (I hope) created an original and interesting story which (I hope) will cause an agent to stop and take a look, so Pézenas has Molière to provide a similar role.


I didn’t have a guide-book with me on this trip, so was quite unprepared for the revelation that this is a town which seems to live and breathe France’s answer to Shakespeare. At first, I didn’t notice. Then a pattern emerged. Every other building appeared to have his name on it.

There’s the Brasserie Molière.


Le Grand Hôtel Molière.


Something called La Scénovision Molière, which was a sort of interactive exhibition put on by the local council.scenovisionmoliere-206x300 I’d imagine you can immerse yourself in all things Molière inside: wear a frock coat like The Miser; powder a wig like Tartuffe; play a hilarious game of mistaken identity. That sort of thing. I couldn’t say for certain because it was shut.

I passed at least two buildings which claimed to have had the great man himself inside their walls. One of these proudly asserts by means of a wall-mounted plaque, that the barber Gely, friend of Molière, lived here.

Moliere woz 'ere!

Moliere woz ‘ere!

It is unclear whether the dates refer to how long the barber lived there or how long the two men were friends. It is equally unclear whether Gely was Molière’s barber, or just a friend who happened also to cut hair. Perhaps he was famous for his styling, otherwise why mention the man’s profession at all? Didn’t they all wear wigs then anyway?

I digress.

I swear another building actually stated that Molière visited this place’ once’ in such and such a year. I can’t back this up with pictorial proof, but I know what I saw. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere else laid claim to hosting the playwright for a pee one day. I’ve been to Stratford…I know the lengths people go to for a piece of the money-spinning literary pie!

And of course, there’s a suitably grand monument to the man.

.moliere statue

So, Pézenas cannot be accused of not trying, (although there was no rue Molière, which would seem an obvious choice). This place is doing everything it can to link itself to France’s best known, most performed, most famous literary figure.

And to think…he only visited the place briefly. And then as an actor in a touring troupe. They say he must have found inspiration for some of his characters in the townsfolk, and I’m sure he did. But the fellow didn’t make his name there. That happened much later, back in Paris. Where he was born. If anywhere can lay claim to him, it’s Paris. Stratford-Upon-Avon claims Shakespeare as its own because he was born there, married there and lived there a lot of the time. Pézenas claims Molière because he passed through and stopped a while!

Now that’s selling yourself. Can’t think of anyone famous enough actually from your town? No problem. Search the archives; find someone famous who had a wash and cut. Once.

Good on you Pézenas. You’ve found something which makes people stop and take a look. I just hope I’ve done the same in my pitch to agents.

And who knows, if I ever find a publisher and make my mark on the world with my writing, there will one day be plaques bearing my name adorning walls all over Scotland. I’d settle for that, no matter how tenuous the link.

Yes, even if it’s as tenuous as the link between the beginning and end of this blog post.

Acronym corner….a new method of getting over crushing disappopintment.

So, I didn’t win the Kelpies Prize the other week. I won’t deny that I was really keen to win, but just finding myself on the shortlist was a thrill, and I think it will serve me well in my future efforts to get my book published.

How’s that for magnanimity?

What’s that you’re saying at the back there? You don’t believe me? Well, you should. I genuinely am ok with my new status of ‘shortlisted writer’. And the event itself was fantastic. I met some great people, including my fellow shortlisted writers and the folk from Kelpies. I also enjoyed the utter thrill of hearing an excerpt of my book being read to the guests by Janis Mackay, storyteller and childrens’ author extraordinaire.

The wonderful Janis Mackay reading at the Kelpies 2015.

The wonderful Janis Mackay reading at the Kelpies 2015.

Not that I arrived at this place of emotional serenity immediately after the announcement. I didn’t leap out of that prize ceremony roller coaster shouting “wow, that was AMAZING!”, pose for a “I rode the Kelpies” photograph, and run directly to the next ride. I’m only human, and therefore not entirely without some complex emotions. But I have found myself, just a couple of weeks or so later, on an even keel and ready to (warning – personal development phrasing alert) ‘move on’.

Having been trained in the art of giving and receiving feedback at work (“Try not to look quite so terrified when pouring that Laurent Perrier in severe turbulence”), I was aware that what I experienced in the days following the ceremony was pretty close to the response most of us have when given feedback of any sort. I refer, of course, to DERAC.

D = DENIAL. If fantasizing for a few days afterwards that it had in fact been me up on stage collecting the publishing deal and a comedy-sized cardboard cheque is denial, then, yes. Check that box.

E = EMOTION. Yes. There was emotion. All sorts.

R = RATIONALISATION. “It’s not the end of the world. Nobody died. None of this will matter one day”. (Like when I’m dead).

A = ACCEPTANCE. I was shortlisted. That’s the focus. We can’t all be the winner. The short-listing was the winning. I am a winner. Just not the winner of a publishing deal and a large, comedy-sized cardboard cheque. That’s all. No biggie. (I hate that phrase. Why have I used it?)

C = CHANGE/CONTINUE. I think I’m at this stage. And exhibiting both possible reactions. I am continuing to write and continuing to stay positive. I have also changed my perspective on the past few weeks: the short-listing is all positive and can only help me in my writing career. It isn’t a question of not winning. It is a question of making it to the all-important shortlist.

And this is an entirely acceptable and accurate account of how I have dealt with the situation.

There is, however, an alternative, and equally accurate version of events. It also has the advantage of a more memorable acronym, because let’s be honest….DERAC? Somebody thought this up. And now employees across the english-speaking world use this uninspiring acronym to learn how to cope when someone tells you you’re a bit crap.

People, I give you (and no sniggering please; I’m sleep-deprived and likely to cry at any minute) DABHANDED. This acronym will surely soon be rolling off the tongues of eager ‘learning day’ delegates in badly ventilated conference rooms the length and breadth of the country. And now I shall proceed to demonstrate how it worked for me and my emotional journey.



B = BREAKDOWN. A minor one when we arrived home. A direct result of the disappointment/denial/despair/despondency in tandem with the alcohol consumed in the hours following the award giving.


A = ANGER. With myself, my situation, my not winning. Actually, with pretty much anything and everyone. A direct result of the hangover.

N = NEEDY. Because I became suddenly very needy of everyone.

D = DECIDE. I decided this sate of affairs was ridiculous.

E = EMOTION. In that I looked for a more pragmatic and constructive one. I opted for ‘happy’

D = DETERMINATION. I am now determined more than ever that my book will find an agent and be published.

And there you have it: two versions of a similar process. They both see me in a good place…happy and determined to continue putting my manuscript out there until someone (let’s, for the sake of argument, call them “Angel”) decides that it is worthy of the printed page.

In the meantime, the writing continues. As it always will. Regardless.

Award Night Schadenfreude or The Dangers of Facial Leakage

Funny things, award ceremonies. They exist to celebrate the best: the best written; the best sung; the best acted; the best designed. And we tune in in our millions to watch these ‘bests’ receive their prizes. It’s all, of course, tremendously exciting. Who, we wonder, will win? What will they say? Will they trip up the stairs? Will they remember to thank their Granny? All very important aspects of an awards ceremony I’m sure. But is that really why people tune in?

There are of course those awards – the Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes – where it’s all about the dresses. At least it seems that way if the dreary output from our esteemed television networks is anything to go by. How low will they go? Who dares to go strapless? Will a single person this year wear yellow? In the rain. And I’m sure many viewers tune in just for the fashion chat. And why not? It’s often more exciting than the hours of dross to follow.

Amongst all the reasons for dropping everything to catch these ceremonies (or for remembering to catch it later on the internet) is the less obvious, and oh-so guilty pleasure of waiting for your favourite star to drop their ever-present smile. It’s that split-screen moment just before the winner is announced: six hopeful faces, still smiling their professional, ‘awards-night’ smile; still smiling their ‘God-I-hope-it’s-me’ smile; still smiling their ‘this-could-really-be-it smile’; still smiling their ‘the-world-is-watching-me smile’. Then we finally have our winner and the screen fills with the shocked/in denial/confused/delirious/ecstatic face of the newly crowned victor. The other contenders vanish; their moment is gone. But in the split second before they are cut from our view, we get the briefest of glimpses of their reaction to the news; their honest reaction before the pro in them kicks them back into line. It’s a rare and precious moment. Seconds later, as the victor climbs to the stage, the runners-up find cameras thrust into their faces, so they’d better be ready with a generous smile. Come on, let’s face it: we love to see them struggle; to see the pain behind the grimace; to see the festering resentment of ten nominations with no wins. It’s in the eyes. Unless they’ve opted for tinted eye wear, which just ruins the fun for the rest of us.

This is not something I spend much time thinking about. Honestly it isn’t. But, if you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m shortly up for a prize myself, the Kelpies Prize 2015, for children’s fiction. Admittedly, it’s on somewhat of a smaller scale than the Academy Awards, or the Booker, but it is nevertheless the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. It’s the only prize ceremony I’ve ever been involved in (unless you count my sixth form prize night, where I was shocked to find myself walk off with the joint prize for French. I wasn’t even in contention, but I think my teacher felt obliged to give me something for improving from a predicted ‘E’ to an actual ‘A’).

As my nerves have been increasing, so too has the awareness that all eyes will be on me and the other two shortlisted writers. What if, like me, someone there enjoys the Schadenfreude of watching for the runners-up reaction? With this in mind I thought I’d better practice my split-screen moment: the before (Will I? Could I?); the after (OMG! It’s me! Or, Bravo! Well done!); and, yes, the momentary in-between face (Bugger! Not me!).

And I need to practice because I’ve been told that I suffer from ‘facial leakage’. The inability to fake an emotion.

So, judge for yourselves. Are these faces believable?

The Before Face:


The After, OMG! It’s Me! Face:




The After, Bravo! Well done! Face:

wpid-img_20150821_150642.jpgYes, it’s identical to my OMG! It’s me! face. This is the face I hope to be wearing whatever the outcome. It is, I think, a genuine-looking smile. It’s a smile that only hurts if you don’t mean it. Without it of course, there’s every danger that I could be wearing….

The Bugger! Not Me! face:


Or the ‘No, really, I’m super happy for you, really’ face:


Or, and this would be a personal disaster, the ‘I feel like killing you’ face:


I think I’d be on safer ground with the ‘oh well, there’s always next year’ face:


Naturally, on the night, there will be no hiding my genuine emotion; all the effort in the world won’t help me. I shall just have to trust my face to perform for me because I’ll be too busy being genuinely excited, terrified, expectant, hopeful, and most importantly, thrilled to be there at all. That’s the face I’ll be wearing: thrilled and excited and just happy to be part of it. And I don’t have a picture of that face, because I can’t fake it a week away from the event. And in any case, your mouth can be doing one thing, but it’s the eyes that have it. That’s where the true emotion hides. I’ll check in with you next week with some photos and you can judge for yourselves.

Whichever way it goes, I trust my eyes will be smiling brightly.