Not Julie or Julia

I’ve just spent the last 12 hours making a Beef Bourguignon. My family have just spent the last 30 minutes trying to eat it.

Not My Bourguignon

Iain, my husband, in true child-like fashion assembled the french stew, potatoes and veg into one big mixed-up-so-you-don’t-taste-it mountain. The only thing he didn’t do was smother it in tomato sauce. Lauren, (my soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old) with a different technique, dipped bread suspiciously into the beef concoction and managed to look busy, as if she was eating it, without actually eating any. Harris (7), the wee soul, didn’t even pretend. He spent his time ensuring that the gloopy gunk didn’t contaminate any of the other edible food on his plate. And me, well, like any good Goldilocks, I ate it all up. I thought it was good.

Not Me Slaving Over a Hot Stove

I can’t help but draw parallels with my writing life. I only spent 12 hours making a stew and I’m in a huff that they didn’t eat it. Surely the problem is with my fussy eating family and not with my cooking? What if I spend hours, days, months and years finishing my WIP only to find that no-one eats it up… that it’s too hot, too cold or too lumpy for anyone to read?

Not My Family

I’m discovering that I’m no Julia Child, the famous American chef, cookbook and memoir writer and TV personality, who brought French cookery to the masses, including her legendary Boeuf Bourguignon. My Bourguignon is now in the bin.

Meryl Streep Being Julia Child

Also, sadly, I am no Julie Powell. (She cooked Julia Child’s recipes and blogged about it every day for a year!) Blogger, writer, cooker of all Julia Child’s recipes and in addition to having her blog published in a book, the first blogger to have their blog made into a major film. (Apologies for the number of times the word blog appears in that sentence) She can also make Beef Bourguignon. I can barely spell it. *checks Google again*

The Real Julie Powel and Her Book

If you haven’t seen the film, Julie and Julia, depicting both their stories, you must watch it – especially if you are a cooker, a blogger, a writer or all three. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favourite Movies Ever… and like most of the movies in that list, it made me cry.

I’m Not Julie or Julia

Anyway, there is one plus point to tonight’s dinner debacle. I am shut away in my room, in a huff and I’m writing.

A Christmas Miracle

In a change to the advertised programme this blog will now be reporting some good news! As regular readers of the blog (ok, just humour me) will only be too aware, posts on here are usually ‘sob-sob, nobody wants me or my writing’ or worse still ‘boo-hoo, poor me, I don’t have time to write’… but today, drum roll please, I am trying out a new theme… I don’t have a name for it yet.

*There can be miracles, when you believe*

A few months ago I responded to a call for submissions on the HI-Arts website… From Hairy Bikers To Horrible Histories – The Search Is On To Find Scotland’s Best New Nonfiction! Well, I know quite a lot about being hairy so I sent off a few chapters and a carefully crafted (thank you Nicola Morgan) pitch.

And, as is usually the case in these matters, I received an email along the lines of ‘Thank you for your submission… blah blah blah, due to the high number of high quality entries… yeah, yeah yeah…’ I didn’t need to read the rest. I knew it would say: ‘Unfortunately, on this occasion you have been unsuccessful.’ Except it didn’t.

‘We have now selected the authors we would like to work with and would like to invite you to a meeting.’ Em… I beg your pardon? A meeting? And did you somewhere in that last sentence just call me an AUTHOR? Well, despite the overwhelming urge to run outside, throw my hat into the air and shout ‘The Man from Del Monte – he say YES!’ I did nothing. I waited. I pinched myself. I waited. I looked for emails about cruel hoaxes and clercal errors. I entered a state of suspended disbelief.

The Man from Del Monte – he say YES!

Only now, after attending a meeting at the Creative Scotland offices in Edinburgh this week (get me – dah-ling!) with Peter Urpeth of HI-Arts and Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates (I know, I know, if I wasn’t me I would hate me too) am I allowing myself to believe a little. They read my stuff. They like it. They want to read MORE! Who knows what will happen, where this will lead… if anywhere. But right now – Santa, baby, slip a sable under someone else’s tree because all my Christmases have come at once.

Anyway, I didn’t come on here to boast (ok, maybe just a wee bit) I just wanted to say that last year, after a crushing disappointment (boo-hoo nobody wants me or my writing) I almost gave up. It is indeed a Christmas Miracle.

So, what are you waiting for? Another Virgin Birth? The truth is you have to put yourself about a bit, you have to knock on all the Inn Keepers’ doors you can find, you just have to keep sending out the crates of satsumas so that somebody, somewhere can say ‘YES’.

Wishing you miracles, merriness and writerly success for 2013.


Happy Bloggy Birthday

Hello again! I bet you’ve been wondering where I’d got to!

No… you haven’t?

Never mind.

It’s been brought to my attention that my blog is going to be a year old next week. *pulls party popper but nothing happens* emm… but unfortunately there isn’t much to celebrate.

My last real post was eight months ago. My excuse? I don’t have time. Oh, I know if I really wanted to be a writer I would get up at 5am every day to write, or would wait until the house is sleeping before putting pen to paper… but those of you that know me will know I’m lazy, and those of you that have seen me, will know I can’t afford to lose any beauty sleep.

My dilemma is that my writing time is precious – when I do get time to concentrate on it, I try to focus on my WIP or on the short story collection I’ve been trying to put together or on writing a poem for a competition deadline. The blog, unfortunately, seems to be at the bottom of the pile.

And the thing is, I’ve had plenty to blog about… I could have been boasting about some of my small successes… a poem finally published, printed and everything, with my name on it in Causeway Magazine in May… (Look – it’s even on the first page!)

Or bleating about the fact that I actually got paid for a piece of my writing for the very first time…(Ok, it was only two tiny pages and it was for work – but it still counts, right?)

But there always seems to be something more important to do. (Clean the toilet, make healthy family meals, exercise the chinchilla, do a podcast, write an email, dye my hair, homework, watch Prison Break etc etc)

To illustrate my point (perhaps in too much detail) here is a short snippet I found in one of my many neglected notebooks…

Some days I haven’t got time

To cut my toenails, or blow my nose,

Or a Number 2 –

It’s been ages since I did one of those.

So… here it is… my first birthday blog wish…

*scrunches eyes shut and blows out the candle*

What did I wish for?

Well, I can’t tell you, can I? Otherwise it won’t come true. But go on, I bet you can guess…

Super post on plotting and pantsing (love it) books by my lovely writing chum Helen MacKinven. So, like a Cadbury’s Creme Egg – How Do You Write Yours?

Helen MacKinven

This week, I’ve worked on a draft outline of the overall plot of my WIP, leaving a bit of room for tweaking. I had to get this sorted as my initial idea needed a radical rethink to make the storyline more ambitious. The task of mapping out the plot made me consider whether I’m a plotter or a pantser (as in, fly by the seat of your pants when writing).

Plotter or pantser is a question often asked of writers at book events. I’ve sat in the audience many a time at book festivals and listened to pretentious writers tell readers that they’ve absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in their novel until they write it.

“I let my characters take me on a journey of discovery. I cut them loose and they tell me where the book needs to go, blah, blah,blah…”

Yeah right! At this point, my…

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My Gutsy Valentine

Ok, I realise it’s a bit early for the Valentine stuff, but consider today’s post a poke in the ribs, to make sure that whatever your love life situation, you do something memorable, brave even, to celebrate 14th February this year.

Time for a true story… are you sitting comfortably? Tough, I’m starting anyway…

Once upon a very long time ago, there was an ordinary girl on a train. Everyday the girl-on-the-train looked out for the handsome boy-on-the-train and daydreamed about all sorts of things that a handsome boy and an ordinary girl could do together on a train and other more stationary locations. The girl never spoke to the boy, and the boy never noticed the girl. It seemed that even though they caught the same train, every day at the same time, and got off at the same stop, their tracks were never destined to cross.

However, on Valentine’s Day the ordinary girl decided to take destiny in to her own hands. She made the handsome boy a special card and inside it she wrote him a special poem. (I know you’re thinking why am I reading this two-fingers-down-the-throat rubbish? Bear with me.) She didn’t sign it. But, as an after thought, she slipped her phone number inside the envelope and packaged it up with a red ribbon. In a moment of wild bravery and passionate hope she made her best friend leave it on the windscreen of his car. (A handsome racing green MGB, in case you’re wondering.)

But he didn’t phone. Valentine’s Day came and went. The ordinary girl consoled herself with Biarritz chocolates and a video of Pretty Woman. Still nothing happened. The handsome boy never got on the train again and the ordinary girl started to wonder if she had imagined him into life.

Then one evening in March, when the ordinary girl had quite forgot about being brave or passionate, there was a phone call. Yes, you’ve guessed it – from the handsome boy.

‘I liked your card,’ he said, ‘and your poem. I’m sorry for not phoning sooner, but I’ve been away at sea. Would you like to go out for dinner?’

Here endeth today’s lesson. So, don’t wait for fate to pull into your station… be brave and bold and daring. Build your own train track; the stops you make, the sights you see, and the passengers you meet are all up to you. Choo Choo!

What? You want to know what happened next? Well, you probably guessed that the ordinary girl was me.(well, d’oh!) I’d love to tell you that we lived happily ever after, but we didn’t. We did, however, share lots of pizzas, plenty of poems and rides in the racing green MGB and other stationary locations.

What did the card say? Oh, the poem? It went something like this:

If pigs could fly, if rain was dry, to you my love I’d swear.

I’d wait for you by your MGB, then my passions I’d declare.

But rain is definitely wet and I haven’t seen a pig fly yet,

So I’ll have to ask you to be mine, by giving you this secret valentine.

So what are you waiting for? Go on – do something dramatic for Valentine’s Day – I dare you… x

Don’t You Want Me, Baby?

Today is a difficult day. I have been rejected. Well, not officially. There is no letter, email or rejection slip to tell me in black and white that I have been unsuccessful this time. I almost wish there was, painful though it would be to read – it would at least put me out of my misery. Instead as the “don’t call us we’ll call you” deadline approaches, and the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me becomes the soundtrack to my life, I have to make the decision myself to give up wondering: Could that phone ringing be them? Is there news in the letterbox today? Did they even get my stuff? Did anyone actually read it?

I sit back down at my desk.  Carefully I open the box to check that they are still there. They have moved a bit, so I fix the fragile folds and smooth down the wispy edges. I wrap the dreams back up in their little shreds of hope. I look out of the window. It is the first day of February today but already I can see the familiar green fingertips of the daffodils poking out of the soil to check the temperature. They return every year, even here, on this wind-whipped edge of the Atlantic. Despite the inhospitable weather, and the fact that my husband destroys their lingering stems with his lawnmower, they always grow back. They keep growing.

Not quite Wordsworth

So, that is what I will do. I will keep lingering and growing, ignoring the rain and the scythes of the gardeners. I will keep writing – regardless.

Shhh, just a minute – there’s the phone. I’ll be right back…

Snacks for Writers

There are so many distractions for a writer. Some I manage to ignore better than others: housework, Facebook and regular exercise. And then there are some that I just can’t ignore: Twitter, the ping of a new email arriving and being hungry. My mind may be full, but if my stomach is empty then the blank page in front of me will stay empty. However, today I bring you news of the Graze craze – gorgeous, little healthy snack boxes that remove the need for trips to the kitchen which will help keep you chained to your writing desk for longer! Here is a picture of my Graze box when it arrived with the post on Friday:

It's better than a letter!

Yummy! I’m afraid the itty bitty oat cakes and onion marmalade were the first to go… followed closely by the Jaffa Cake box containing roasted hazelnuts, orange infused sultanas and dark chocolate buttons. *drools* Sorry. *wipes it up*

Graze will send you a snack box every week containing natural, tasty treats for you to try! When you sign up at their website you can also let them know which of their 100 snacks you love, like or loathe to make sure you get what you enjoy the most. If you, like me, are supposed to be on a diet or healthy eating plan, you could choose the LightBox or BoostBox, without the naughtier treats and chocolate – but where’s the fun in that?

WARNING: the picture above is of my Graze EatWell box just after it arrived. The picture below was taken ten minutes later…

I haven’t got the hang of grazing yet, but I will keep practising.

Did I make you hungry? Sorry – here have a free Graze box. Just use this code 1DYQJRKD here.

Next time on the blog: Gadgets for Writers – How to Stay at your Desk for Longer with the She-Wee… or maybe not.

Rock. Paper. Resolutions.

Jan-u-ary - sick and tired you've been hangin' on me...

Well, since it is nearly the end of January and my New Year’s Resolution has been reduced from “Write everyday” to “Write once a week” to “Write something – ANYTHING!” I thought I’d get back in the saddle of the blog.  So here goes… *blows dust off the saddle and climbs on* Whoa… is it just me or is it cold and stiff for you too?

Anyway, starting with a roundup of local writerly news from the Rock (aka the Isle of Lewis) this week I braved the gales to drive into Stornoway to visit our lovely local library for local people. The Western Isles Libraries’ very own Writer in Residence, poet and author Ian Stephen, is holding a series of workshops entitled Read, Listen, Create, to discuss reading and writing – and all for free. Where do I sign?

I attended the first session on Wednesday evening, held in the cosy library café, and as I pulled up a chair was at the same time delighted and dismayed to find plates of biscuits (including Jammie Dodgers!) and bowls of Pringles adorning the tables. I won’t even go into the Diet Resolution; suffice to say just as I’m progressing on one resolution (writing) the other one is about to be ruined (dieting).

However, once our little group assembled and Ian Stephen began to regale us with traditional tales from the Western Isles and enlighten us with the processes and considerations of storytelling and re-writing oral traditions, I didn’t think about the Pringles once.

I wasn’t tempted by the biscuits because we were too busy writing text messages in our groups to summarise the tale of when the Factor and His Wife Went to Sea in an Open Boat to St. Kilda. Long story – challenging task! I’m not about to attempt to re-create the full version here – but you can have a quick read at the text message version our group came up with:

Open boat sails from Harris to St.Kilda good weather with Factor’s wife onboard sea full of herring sky full of gannets a huge THUD stuns boat half way there

Gannet beak breaches hull crew leave dead bird stuck in boat wind picks up coming in fast islanders catch boat and see beak WOW!

Being the only one with a mobile phone in my group *shrugs shoulders and puts hands in air* I was elected as chief scribe. Not knowing how to save to drafts I sent it to my wee sister. She replied: ? Am confused x

Text Me a Story Jackanory

This morning when I spoke to her I explained that the message was an exciting task – that I’d been doing writerly things and meeting up with lovely like-minded writerly people.

“Oh,” she said, “I thought you were drunk.”

Hmm… maybe I need another resolution.

Read, Listen, Create with Ian Stephen next meeting  29th February 2012 6.30pm at Stornoway Library – All Welcome!

Don’t live in Lewis? Follow Ian Stephen’s Writer in Residence blog here instead.

Podcast Pressure!

Well tonight I had the pleasure of joining the team at as a guest on their podcast. They invited me on to talk about handwriting – is handwriting dead? Do we care? Of course we do – passionately – well I do anyway!

They offered to link to my blog to see some of my…ahem…writing…and I had to confess that I really didn’t have anything to offer. Spurred on by their encouragement and enthusiasm I decided to give one last big push – and give birth to the new blog properly.

So here it is; a poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Prayer for Kinshasa

A white Mercedes crunches in the dehydrated dirt:

Papa Wemba songs waft from the window,

where my casual elbow rests.

I am the hero.

My sunglasses shield my eyes, but I watch them –

the patient pilgrims that snake around the village waiting for me.

Some have come by foot, some by pirog;

braving the stare of hippos along the Congo.  

The barefooted cluster run to the car,

banging the bonnet in a percussion of joy.

‘Ya Godé! Ya Godé!’


I am home at last.


Sleep ends.

I am back in the European cool, the white comfort.

My mother’s face, on fire with pride, stays with me.

A patterned panne wraps her frail, brown body,

holding her together at the seams.

Each year I am here, she is closer to death,

living still in the shell

of a home;

a concrete box, smooth and bare.

My photo hangs in the kitchen;

next to a crucifix.

We both receive her daily prayers.

I am the way, the truth and the light.

They wait for me to end this eternal poverty.

Lord, God, I beg you –

Let there be light.

And electricity.

Let there be rivers.

And running water.

Let there be yielding seed.

And food.

Let there be a genesis of good.

On the Sabbath they will rest,

with bellies full and spirits blessed.

Provide all I take for granted in this world of excess.

Give them more instead of less.

Give me the money to save them; then

the Mercedes.



Thank you Matthew, Jay and Steve for the lovely chat this evening and the metaphorical kick up the bum to ge something on here!

Listen in to their unmissable weekly podcast discussing all things educational at

Published at last!

Ok, don’t get too excited – it’s only 75 words – and you’ve missed it! It was on on Sunday – for 24 hours! Paragraph Planet is the brainchild of Richard Hearn, it is a truly inspirational site that publishes 75 word nuggets of fabulous flash fiction or extracts from longer pieces, with a new paragraph published every day.

I submitted my own 75 word extract entitled “Kinshasa Dreams”, based on a poem that I had written. I was overjoyed when Richard tweeted me to tell me it was being put on the site! Thank you Richard!

You can submit your own 75 words directly on the site at and you can follow on Twitter too – @paragraphplanet! See you there!