Books Read in June

zenintheartofwriting1. Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury. A collection of essays on writing from a master. Smiled a bit while reading. His love of creating worlds and stories shone through. Recommended.

2. The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing – ed. by Frank A. Dickson. I read this while preparing for writing a short story. As it was on my mom’s bookshelf, I thought I’d see if I’d learn anything. I learned a few things, but some of the advice seemed dated.

3. The Silver Metal Lover – Tanith Lee. I have been meaning to read this for years since I’m interested in artificial intelligence. I heard of Tanith Lee’s passing, unfortunately, and it reminded me to read it. It’s about a young, rich girl falling in love with a robot designed to be artistic and a fantastic lover. At first, Jane was incredibly annoying, but she’s meant to be, and I enjoyed watching her come into her own. The world-building was really interesting, too. Recommended.

uk-uprooted4. Uprooted – Naomi Novik. A lush fantasy inspired by Polish fairytales. I really liked Agnieszka and the politics of the world and magic system. Definitely recommended, and thanks to Macmillan for the copy.

5. On Writing – Stephen King. I’m writing my dissertation for my masters, hence all the books on writing this month. I plan to use a few quotes. I read this back when I was a teenager and just starting to write. Re-reading it about 10 years later and something like 7 books’ worth of words later was interesting. My takeaway is that Stephen King and I have very different writing processes. And that’s okay.

I also beta read 1.75 books for friends, which always takes longer than just reading.

Total books in 2015: 36.

On That Article from that Former MFA Professor, from a Current MFA Student

I’m currently most of the way through my MLitt in Creative Writing. When that article from a former MFA professor circulated around, all I could think is: man, I feel really sorry for his former students. Also, I’m glad my professors aren’t like that, because otherwise I’d have quit.

There have been other responses. Chuck Wendig has a one, as does Foz Meadows.

The condescension drips from that article, and is basically a load of tosh. I’m an experienced writer (I guess?), so if I’d been in a class and heard a teacher come out with these sorts of things, I’d know to ignore them. Maybe if I was brave enough, I’d call them out on it.

For a new writer, just finding their voice and figuring out what they want to write and gathering the confidence to do it, this could be very toxic.

If your main hope is that most of your students come out of the MFA to become better readers rather than better writers? That’s a problem. You should want all your students to improve their writing. Otherwise, what are you teaching them?

An MFA student is probably paying a lot to pursue the course. My MFA is £3400, and that’s a lot cheaper than many places outside of Scotland. Then there’s the wages they’re losing by not-working or working part-time to devote the time to improving their craft. It’s a big investment. The least you can do is not write off most of them as doomed to be failures. Yes, not everyone who gets an MFA in creative writing goes on to become a published novelist, or poet, or screenwriter. They might not WANT to, and that’s fine, too. Not everyone coming into the course will necessarily have the same skill sets or experience. Some might not want to write the type of literature that the teacher adores. I don’t need to pay that much money for someone to look down on me. That doesn’t mean I expect my teachers to say all my writing is brilliant. I expect them to teach me new approaches, skills, and ways of looking at my craft.

I have done a bit of creative writing teaching, mostly for teenagers at school visits, but I’ve taught most age groups now. I would never, ever tell these students they’re awful. I would point out ways to improve, say it needs more work or a different approach. I would never tear a student down. If someone had done that to me at 16, maybe I wouldn’t have books out now.

Perhaps the reason he can dismiss his students so easily is because he thinks writers are born with talent. No. No no no. Sure, some people might be more predisposed to writing than others. Some might find it easier. Some might enjoy it more. Some might be able to write a publishable novel on the first go, and some might take a few practice novels first. But no one springs from the womb ready to write a perfect novel without doing any sort of work at their craft.

I’ve re-read the aborted novel I started when I was 16. Certain bits of it were actually okay. Most of it was unfocused. There were some nice turns of phrases, and a lot of clunky ones. I had no idea what I was doing with the plot. I had fairies and cat people, and no clear reason as to why or how they fit into the world, which was sketchily built at best. My characters weren’t particularly engaging. The first line, for crying out loud, was “the sunset was as red as blood.” Pretty cliche. Years went by. I read a lot. I wrote a lot. I got better.

If you put your hands up and say “well you either have it or you don’t” then you’re giving up on teaching them anything and you’re not taking responsibility for trying to.

If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

Really? Have you met teenagers? Do you remember being a teenager? Not a lot of us knew what we were doing. I certainly didn’t. I was just at a school visit last week and overheard a teen insisting earnestly to another boy that a condom could be used twice. As a teen, you’re learning about so many areas of your life and growing into the person who knows who they want to be and what they want to do.

As a teenager I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I saw it as a very far off goal. I was also thinking about other paths. I was pretty serious about drawing as a teenager, and not bad at it. If I’d focused my attention on art rather than writing, I might be doing that now. Maybe not.

And how many people are there who have sold their debuts in their 50s or older? Plenty. Does that mean they’ve “made it”? That’s such a vague phrase anyway–what does it even mean? For some, making it is finishing something. For others, it’s self-publishing a book to give to friends and family. Maybe they want to publish some short stories in magazines. To others, it’s selling a book to a traditional publisher for a small sum. Still others will only think they’ve made it when they made a million dollars and had a film deal. And even then they might not feel they’ve “made it.” The goalposts always change. It’s a meaningless phrase.

If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

That I agree with, shockingly. Yes, you should write while doing your MFA, and devote the time to it. But his response is written with blanket statements. You do not know the circumstances of all your students or what they go through. Last week my dad was in hospital. I wasn’t able to write or finish my uni reading over the weekend. Not all of your students will be able to stop working entirely. For most of last semester, I was working 30 hours a week. Most students aren’t there to piss around. They also have busy lives that can sometimes get in the way.  Sometimes they might be afraid to write, and use time as an excuse.

Also, really, saying if someone asks if they’re a “real writer” they’re obviously not? I’ve written five books and I STILL ask myself if I’m a “real writer.” Every writer suffers from impostor syndrome. A lot of us are bundles of nerves. If you say your students are not “real” writers for having doubts, then you’re a shitty teacher.

If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

Again, yes, you should read a lot if you want to write. It’s the best way to learn. But then he goes on to shame people’s reaching habits, saying you’re a Real Deal if you devour Great Literature as Judged by Him. I tried to read 2666. I like Roberto Bolaño’s shorter work, but the large tome was not for me. Reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe is just as challenging, if that’s your goal, but for me it was more rewarding. A lot of creative writing programs aren’t that keen on genres, being mildly tolerant to downright sneery of sci fi, fantasy, and crime. Those are all healthy areas of the bookstore. Those are all ways someone can make a living off their writing, and if they’re writing what they enjoy reading, it’ll show.

No matter what you want to write, reading across a bunch of genres will do you more favours than just reading one type of book.  Don’t shame people for reading books they enjoy. They’ll learn from whatever they read, and then maybe they’ll move onto other kinds of books. I’ll read “trashy” books sometimes. I don’t call them guilty pleasures anymore. I’ve nothing to be guilty about.

No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.

This whole response is really dismissive of child abuse and trauma. Foz Meadow’s response focuses really well on that. He really, actually said that some of his student’s writing makes them wish they’d suffered more abuse as a child. What in the world? That is an awful thing to say. Imagine someone who wrote about a very personal aspect of their life, and they see their professor wrote this load of tripe.

Even stepping aside from that bombshell–sometimes people write about things from their past, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I did it, early in my writing. I was writing what I knew. It was a good starting point. It was even therapeutic. Were the pieces incredible and moved everyone who read them to tears? No. And I was still learning my craft, so my prose was clunkier. Now my work has made people cry and laugh. But if someone had dismissed my early attempts, it would have set me back.

You don’t need my help to get published.

I really wish creative writing programs focused more on the business aspect of writing. It’s important to understand the business, how money and payment works, what you might expect from a first novel advance. Taxes! The admin side of writing takes up a lot of time (I just spent the morning wrangling my expenses. So exciting). An MFA isn’t a requirement to be published, obviously. But you’d hope by doing one you’d learn some skills that might give you an edge.

But even outside of the nitty gritty aspects, a professor should, ideally, understand the current publishing industry and be able to offer advice to students, should they ask. If a teacher doesn’t feel they know that much about the current state of the industry…maybe learn about it? It’s not that difficult, and it’s part of the job. It’s a huge task, trying to find a home for a piece of writing, and can be so overwhelming to someone just starting out.

Quote: “I find questions about working with agents and editors increasingly old-fashioned. Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening. My advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible.”

You’re advising all your students to self-publish? Eh? Plenty of people still want to go the traditional publishing route, and if so, you should know enough about it to at least point them to some resources. Pretty sure my agent and editors know plenty about the industry they work in, thank you very much. Self-publishing is another valid route to take, but they should know what both paths are like and what they can expect and if it’s right for them.

It’s not important that people think you’re smart.

Yeah, I agree with that. You don’t need to bash someone over the head and go “I’m clever! I’m clever!” with your writing. It can be wearying. A lot of early writers might try that, and a teacher can show them other options or challenge them to try something else. I agree with this, that you don’t need to show an ego to write, and that entertaining writing is a good goal to work towards. “The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that’s the cleverest writing.” I agree with this.

It’s important to woodshed.

And then I disagree with this again. “I spent seven years writing work that no one has ever read.” Those 7 years would probably have been more fruitful if he’d shared his work with beta readers. I personally wouldn’t have wanted to delay my writing career by 7 years for…whatever reason. “That’s why I advise anyone serious about writing books to spend at least a few years keeping it secret.” Noooooo. Fine if you want to, but this makes it seem like writing is something to be ashamed of or that no one else can help you with it (even though they just spent a bunch of money hopefully getting help on their writing through an MFA). I enjoy sharing my writing with others. It’s why I write books in the first place. And I’m grateful for the people who read my earlier, uglier drafts. My friend Erica once told me, gently, that I should probably scrap this beginning of a draft of a novel and try a different approach. She was 100% right and I knew it, but hearing it from her helped give me the courage to do that, rather than spending a lot more time on a book that wasn’t working. How can you know if you’re writing something that entertains others if you never show it to them?

Nothing gets under my skin more than someone saying “THIS is definitively the right way to write.” Because for a lot of people, it really won’t be. People want to write different types of things. Just yesterday in class, our teacher asked us what our goals are. Some want to write novels, some poetry, some short stories. One person was interested in getting into screenwriting or documentaries. One writes but her main goal is to become an editor. She’s German, so she came here to develop her writing but also to improve her English so it’s easier to get a job when she’s back home, as many German publishing companies translate works originally in English. Another wants to get into teaching and translating. Some aren’t really sure what they want to focus on yet, but are interested in discovering that through writing more. Every one of my fellow students are worthwhile. None of them should be talked down to or dismissed. We’re all “Real Deals.” We’re there, wanting to learn.

A 2014 Roundup, or: Well, That was Quite a Year

Well, 2014. That was a year. Here’s a brief roundup.

Reading from Shadowplay at Borderlands Books in San Francisco

January 2014: This month had a good start. Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2) was released. I was lucky enough to be able to fly back to San Francisco for this, where I did a few events: a book launch at Borderlands Books, a talk at my alma mater, California State University East Bay, a visit to one of my professor’s classes, and another visit at my old high school, Hayward High. I was also able to do some research trips around San Francisco for the book I’d just finished drafting. I found out Pantomime had been listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association Rainbow List. The end of January was less pleasant, for I found out there’d be no contract for Masquerade, Micah Grey #3. I was, frankly, beyond devastated.

Favourite book read in January:  either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

Waterstones Aberdeen Launch. Photo credit: Laura Benvie.

February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.

Favourite book read in February:  Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.
Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.

March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.

Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.

Laya’s first piece of fan art for the Micah Grey series

April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy.  There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.

Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.


May 2014: Pantomime was listed as a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month! I shared the first Vestigial Tale cover and blurb, for “The Snake Charm.” I went to my friend Elizabeth May’s wedding in Gretna Green and ran my first race, a 10k. By this point my mental health was a lot better. I’d been accepted into a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Favourite book read in May: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. I love it so much.


June 2014: Pantomime WON the Bisexual Book award! I posted my acceptance speech. I released “The Snake Charm,” and it had a great first month! I shared the cover and blurb for “The Fisherman’s Net.” My short story “They Swim Through Sunset Seas,” was accepted in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology. I was nominated for Best Newcomer for the British Fantasy Awards and wrote musings on being a baby writer at the beginning of my career. Strange Chemistry, the publisher of Pantomime & Shadowplay, announced that it was closing down very suddenly. I participated in a rowing competition for work dressed as Princess Leia. Behind the scenes, I’d received and implemented edits from my agent on Bonkers Book and it was getting ready to go out on wide submission.

Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.


July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED:  Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.

Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

Best selfie ever: Ewa, Kim, Mahvesh, Me, Anne, Jared. Photocred: Mahvesh Murad
Loncon3. Photo credit: Mahvesh Murad

August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.

Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

Reading from False Hearts at Fantasycon


September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!

Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.
More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.

October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.

Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).

Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.
Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.

November 2014: I did my full-time masters. I worked part-time. I stupidly decided I’d do NaNoWriMo because who needs free time, right, though I had to adjust my goals to include blogging and university work. My nephew, Theo, was born on November 5th. Shadowplay was Gay YA’s November Book of the Month and False Hearts sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag. Shadowplay was nominated for the ALA Rainbow List! I posted another hybrid author roundup. I took a weekend trip to Glasgow. I “won” NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth and swore I’ll never do it again, but it does mean I wrote a good chunk of Brainfreeze Book, my option book for Tor. Things happened behind the scenes regarding *stuff.*

Favourite book read in November:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.

The double rainbow in Arran.
The double rainbow in Arran.

December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.

Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

And that was my year. Let’s see what 2015 brings!

The Isle of Arran Writing Retreat

Last week was my first proper week off in…a long time. Except it wasn’t really a week off–I went to the Isle of Arran with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne for a writing retreat. But it was the first week in so long where I wasn’t going to the day job, or going to a convention, or going to class or doing homework, or on holiday somewhere where you explore all day. I sat on my butt, didn’t move off of it much, and was a proper full time writer for one whole glorious week.

On the ferry to Arran


It did have a bit of drama: the day after we arrived the weather worsened, to the point where we were technically trapped on the island for two days as the ferries weren’t running. Due to the microclimates on the island, it’d be sunny one minute and furiously hailing the next. Wednesday night, lightning flashed and thunder shook the Retreat Cottage of Wonder (and Whisky). Because it was cold and we had the heating up high, a few wasps came out of hibernation. Only queen wasps hibernate. They were the size of small birds (slight exaggeration) and we had to vanquish them with a hoover.

The nearby town of Lamlash, where we went for supplies
In search of vittles
The view from our window. I know, right? That’s Holy Isle, which has a Tibetan monastery.


Aside from that, it was a lot of writing and eating a lot of cheese.

What I did:

– Finished re-reading Pantomime (to refresh myself for Masquerade‘s edits. And whoo man, it was really weird reading a book I wrote in 2010-2012. In general I still like it, but there’s also plenty I’d change, and I can tell my writing’s grown and matured)

– Re-read Shadowplay (because this was written in 2012-2013, it wasn’t as painful to read)

– Edit Masquerade into a readable draft, as that first draft was most definitely not. This was what took most of the week. It’s now out with the first round of betas.

My main task
My main task

– Edit my short story, “The Lioness,” which will be released in the Cranky Ladies of History anthology from Fablecroft Press next year. It’s about a badass lady pirate who killed a lot of people (Jeanne de Clisson).

– Read 1 book for the Bisexual Book Award I’m helping judge (in the general fiction category).

– Finish my research book on corporate espionage for Brainfreeze Book (my option book for Tor).

– I also managed some fun reading: most of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig and some of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

arran11 arran10

The morning we left, the rain cleared up a little, and a perfect, marvelous double rainbow bid us farewell.

This week I’ve been thrown back into day job stress, but as of next week that calms down and then there’s the Christmas break. I’ll either actually take the break off work entirely, or I’ll start drafting Brainfreeze Book again (which I’m currently 40k through).

It was a marvelous week, and I think I’m going to have to find a way to go on more writing retreats.


November: In which I sort of won NaNoWriMo



At the halfway point of last month, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on reaching 50k.

But turns out cheating worked really well for me.

I had 4k of a draft before November started, which I input into day one’s total, but as I wrote pretty much exactly 4k between guest blogs and this blog in November, that evened out. Because I was able to include my university work, as a result I wrote about 6k for uni and my final projects are not that far off from done, which is good because they’re due this Friday and I’m in London from Tuesday to Thursday. As of today, the draft of my option book, codenamed Brainfreeze Book, is 39,091 words. I’m not sure of the percentage of the draft; I feel like I’m around 40% through the story. I’m sure at least 10k of what I wrote is going to be scrapped and rewritten. But it’s a lot of progress.

The NaNoWriMo graph

So, maybe I didn’t “technically” win. Who the heck cares? It’s an arbitrary number anyway. Back in January I planned to keep track of my word counts all year in a spreadsheet because I am a nerd. I gave up on it in mid-July, pretty much right after Tor offered on False Hearts and Brainfreeze Book. But in the first 6.5 months of the year I wrote around 155,000 words. From mid-July to the end of October, I think I wrote at least another 45k of Masquerade & the Vestigial Tales. So in as of December 1st, I’ve written at least 250k, and I’m going to edit all of Masquerade this month and finish my final projects for the first half of my MLitt. That’ll be inching pretty close to 750 words a day on average, all year long, despite working full time for almost all of it and, for a brief time, working 32 hours a week AND studying full-time (note: not recommended). Despite some shitty things happening, and then some really awesome things happening (which can be just as distracting for getting words on the page). I kept on pushing through, kept on writing, no matter what life threw at me. I’m really proud of that.

And, as I’ve said before, writing is not a race. There’s been plenty of 300 word days I’ve had that have been far more useful than other 3000 word days. A book is more than its word count. Some of the most important work you can do is stare out of a window and think really hard, or read a book, or watch a film, or get out into the world and live in it and be inspired that way.

I hereby declare 2014 a writing win.



Recent School Visits & Events

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages, but over the last few months I’ve done some school visits around Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen City Council / Central Library were awarded funding for visits as part of their event #WriteCity. I visited:

– Tilly Youth Centre for their LGBT youth group
– Northfield Library for an open to the public event
– Kincorth Academy
– Harlaw Academy
– St. Machar Academy (this one was part of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature project rather than #WriteCity)
– California State University East Bay (this was a Skype visit for my mom’s class, who’s a lecturer there. She’s been teaching Pantomime in a composition class that focuses on the theme of gender and identity for the last two quarters.)

I spoke to all the groups about my writing, both the books themselves and my publishing journey. Some of them were more discussion groups, some with a heavy emphasis on Q&A, and for others I led writing workshops and had them do some exercises. As a warm up, I made them write a 6 word story, made famous by Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). Another exercise I did that worked quite well was bringing in three or so objects and asking them to write something about them. Some of the things I brought: a crystal ball, a key, a small elephant figurine, a paper pantomime stage (technically the card Kim Curran gave me for Pantomime’s publication!), a spanner. It would be really interesting to see what was most popular (crystal ball and key) and what wasn’t particularly (the spanner). And also, even though say 10 people would write about the crystal ball, all the stories would be different. The people attending the events were anywhere from around 14 at the youngest, up to retired people at the public event.

Sometimes the group would share their results, and sometimes they wouldn’t. I never force them to read aloud as I know that could be detrimental to their writing confidence. Sharing your work with others is hard at the best of times, especially when it’s a first draft you’ve been asked to craft on the spot.

I am so glad Aberdeen City Council Libraries approached me, and that I’ve been approved for a few visits via the Scottish Book Trust. I have one school visit lined up next year, but now that I’m not working as much, I have time for more. If you know any teachers or librarians in Scotland interested in bringing in an author for a school visit, take a look at the Live Literature database. And, if you’d like me to come, here’s my page. The Scottish Book Trust pays half of the school fees and the travel, which makes it a lot easier for budget-strapped schools to bring in speakers. I’m hoping the students and people I spoke to enjoyed the events, as I sure did.

NaNoWriMo: The Halfway Point


There is no way I’m going to win NaNoWriMo without cheating.

I thought now that I was working less I’d magically have more free time, and I do, but there’s still so much for me to do. I made really good progress in week one, but week two has been a struggle. However, I do think I can still write 50k in a month, it just won’t all be on Brainfreeze Book.

So I’ve added a little folder called “Cheating” in Screivener and I’ll copy my uni work into it. “CHEATING!” you cry. Me: “Yeah, so what?” The uni work is a lot more important to finish this month, versus rushing through a draft for a book not due until next October, and said rushing might mean a lot more work in edits down the line. I’m reaching the bit in the book where the corporate espionage kicks in. I’ve interviewed my cousin, who is basically a white hat hacker and owner of Secure DNA, which was SUPER helpful, but I still need to do more research to figure out how this next section of the plot will pan out. If I just make shit up, it’s going to stink and I’m going to have to re-write it all anyway. That’s a waste of time.

SO. I’m aiming to write at least 30k in Brainfreeze Book, which I’m well on my way to completing, and I’m also pasting in my essays and such and still updating my NaNo word count, because I’d find it disappointing to see my word count so far below the “goal”.

Every year I try NaNoWriMo, but the emphasis on word count over everything else always ends up stressing me out, and my anxiety is in overrdrive all the time anyway. I’ve tried NaNo twice before. Both books had to be thrown out completely. One is trunked forever, and the other one has a premise I love but that iteration of the book was so bad. SO VERY BAD. My best friend Erica read it and was like “…yeah, you need to throw this out and start again.” And she was so right. It was possibly one of the worst things I’d ever written, and it’s because I kept madly tapping even though I knew it was wrong. The books I write slower (first draft between 3-6 months)? Those are the ones published.

So if you struggle with NaNoWriMo, you’re far from the only one! For some people it works brilliantly. I thought this year maybe I could properly win it, since I have a detailed outline. And I probably could win it, but the draft would suck and I’d possibly fail my courses. So that’s not the way for me to go. I’m not enjoying the race, so I’m taking a different track. I’ll still probably write 50k this month, they just won’t all be on the same thing. It’s not wrong. There’s no wrong way to write, as long as you’re writing and making progress.

-Laura Lam, a three-time NaNoWriMo failure