Thursday, 22 September 2016

Highland One Island Book Tour

I visit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland regularly but, with the exception of a series of workshops I delivered in Aberdeen last year, I have never taken my two novels on tour with me. This August and September I remedied that. Travelling round with my husband in our campervan, Bessie, I visited bookstores, schools, libraries and writing groups throughout the Highlands and Argyll. This is a photo-blog of that tour.

It started on a glorious late summer evening in Aberdeen with a visit to The Aberdeen Youth Council.

Bessie Van with Pittodrie Stadium in the background

Afterwards we bombed up the A96 to spend the night in a campsite in Nairn.  Dubbed the 'Friendly Caravan and Camping Club' we were greeted by the warden who grudgingly showed us to our late night pitch.

Next day I visited Dingwall Academy and Community Library. I presented Ways of the Doomed to a group of National Five students, had lunch with a youth book group and later met with a very enthusiastic adult book group. After three hours and three groups I was all talked out and looking forward to some rest days before the next event.

Dingwall Academy in the sunshine
We stopped off in Contin for a couple of days. The first day we climbed the hill Little Wyvis and I was astounded to see that the controlling future world I invented for Ways of the Doomed is not so far away.  These signs are displayed all over the estate to scare walkers away. It didn't work. 

Misleading all year sign with no mention of stalking

Wave to the camera!

Another wave to the invisible camera
These signs are to put walkers off but the Access Laws in Scotland allow walkers to walk on these paths.

Next day Colin wanted a day fishing so we drove the van to Loch Meig and while he guddled about looking for fish I ran the length and back of the loch before settling down in the van to write some new short stories.

A fine road runs the length of the loch to the dam and back.

Back to the tour and lunch in Inverness with a group of children's writers before the first of my open events - Saturday afternoon in Waterstones, Inverness.  I was well looked after by the welcoming staff of this lovely bright store.

Inverness children's writers

Saturday and Sunday night were spent in Evanton giving me the chance to have a lazy Sunday wandering the banks of the Cromarty Firth.

Looking over the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle

Monday started grey but brightened up by the time I reached Fortrose Academy. I was one of the many workshop leaders to take part in the Project Future Literacy Festival.  It was a treat to meet all the other leaders and to work with such willing and happy students.

From Fortrose we dashed up the A9 to Wick in time to see a stunning sunset and to experience Mexican Monday food in the local Wetherspoons.  The Wick event was in the evening so we had plenty time to visit the famous Pulteney Distillery before I delivered my Narrative Devices workshop to Caithness Writers.

Pulteney Distillery, Wick

Another road dash next day to another writers' group, this time southward to Huntly.  Huntly Writers' meeting was informal and rather than deliver a talk or a workshop we all sat around, as writers, and talked about writing.  It was very relaxed and great fun.  Next day I had the opportunity to visit one of the Huntly creative initiatives, Orb's Bookshop. And of course I couldn't resist buying a book there.        

Maureen Ross of Huntly Writers in Orb's Bookshop
So that was the sunny North Highlands, what about the other Highland areas and the ONE island?
The next part of the tour involved mixed weather, ferries and a few trips round the West Coast.

Publicity was important for the tour.  Some local papers featured my tour and Bute Island Radio invited me to speak on their community show.  The show was the day before the Dunoon event so we sailed over the Clyde to Rothesay, and while the wind picked up and the rain battered down I spoke for an hour about books, libraries and writing.  By the time I left the radio station the ferries were disrupted and we were very glad our ferry journey to the Cowal Peninsula was only five minutes long. 

Bookpoint's fine window display for my event

The weather improved and next day Dunoon sparkled in the sunshine.  Bookpoint Bookshop was the venue for my talk and although the audience was small we had a long and lively Q & A session and the coffee shop setting was right up my street. 

All aboard for the Rothesay Ferry!
We headed home for a couple of days to celebrate a family birthday, then hit the road again for the last leg of the tour.  Back to Rothesay in good weather this time for a busy, bustling event at Rothesay Library.  There I presented my books and because the audience was still buzzing from the success of Bute Noir, the new crime festival held on the island, crime fiction was also on the menu.  

Oban Harbour

Last stop was Oban.  I love Oban, I have visited many times, mostly passing through on the way to the Islands. This time I talked to readers at Oban Library and spent Saturday afternoon in Oban Waterstones engaging with customers, most of whom were tourists. I had a fan girl moment during a wonderful conversation with Luke Sutherland's sister!  

We camped in a coastal campsite just outside the town and enjoyed spending lazy mornings watching boats sail up and down The Sound of Kerrera.  

This tour was an adventure. A way to combine my love of Scotland and camper-vanning, with my love of writing.  It was hard work but I enjoyed very minute of it. The many librarians, bookstore managers, writers and teachers who hosted my events were kind, welcoming and helpful.  I thank you all.

While I was in Oban it was suggested my next tour should be to the Islands.  Watch this space.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Adults Love a Child Narrator #2 - Girls

It is almost a year since my novel Ways of the Doomed was published and I am astonished at the mixed readership it has attracted.  When the marketing was first planned it was agreed to pitch mostly to the Young Adult market.  I have been visiting schools all year and it's true, the kids are enthralled.  When I wrote the novel I had no audience in mind, I just wrote the book I wanted to write, so I am delighted that adults are also loving reading the harrowing adventure of my young protagonist Sorlie Mayben.  This got me thinking about other books narrated by children that have an overwhelming adult appeal, often because the subject is bigger than the narrator’s story. 

Now it’s the girls turn to show that they are just as capable as telling their stories for the adult audience.  When I looked out my reviews I found just as many girls stories as I did boys. Many of the reviews whether with girl or boy narrators are set in Africa.  This may be because I did lots of research on Africa a few years back or maybe it is because African writers seem to find it easier to tell harrowing stories from the point of view of children. Looking at the list below, I find that most of the stories are harrowing no matter where they are set but  they are stories worth reading despite that.

Not reviewed but also worth reading are The Famished Road by Ben Okri; the novels of Buchi Emecheta; Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan and The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi.

 1. Precious by Sapphire

Sixteen year old Precious Jones, is illiterate, she is raped by her father, beaten by her mother, let down by the system. When she falls pregnant for the second time by her own father she is placed in an alternative teaching programme. Here she learns to read and write. This is her diary.  This brutal story is not for the faint hearted, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it is a unique story.  Too many novels portray ‘poor little rich girl’ - poor little poor girl deserves to have her story told too. Despite the trauma of the tale this is an inspirational read.

 2.  Dora, a headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch

Definitely not for the faint hearted.  I imagine teenagers hiding this novel from over anxious parents.  LGBT sex, drugs and enough swearing to make Madonna blush.  Oh but what a voice (or not) because this is a modern telling of the Sigmund Freud case study and his treatment of a young girl Ida Bauer (Dora) with hysteria which resulted in loss of voice.  The modern narrator Ida (Dora) ramrods her way through her own mental health issues, subjects her psychiatrist to a treble dose of Viagra and videos his subsequent relief. It is fun but with serious undertones.  Her mother is in denial of Ida’s father’s affair and Ida relies on her motley crew of friends to help her get even, get better, get the hell out of there.  

      3. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan 

The story is told by thirteen year old OCD sufferer, Lou Bertignac in a narrative voice that is unique and believable. She befriends No, a homeless girl living rough on the streets of Paris. With a naivety that is refreshing Lou tries to fix No's life.  The fact that the number of homeless young people currently living on the streets of Paris is staggering makes this story all the more believable. 

 4. Where’d you go Bernadette?  by Maria Semple

This book is set in Seattle, where everyone works or is connected to Microsoft, but the fifteen year old Bee uses emails, articles, hand written post-its and reports to try to discover what has happened to Bernadette, her wacky mother, who one day vanished from Bee’s life. Bee is a funny, clever and very wise narrator.  I loved this book

5    5. NOS4A2  by Joe Hill

Although this book starts with the grown up Viv McQueen, most of the book is in flashback.  Vic as a young girl can teleport to the right spot to find missing items just by riding her bike through a covered bridge.  She keeps her gift to herself and gets into all kinds of horrors when she meets bad guy Charles Manx, the man who offers children a ride in his creepy car and takes them to Christmassland.  Very scary and definitely adults only.

6.   6. The Other Hand   by Chris Cleeve 

This is the story of another Bee, this time a young girl fleeing her African village, which was cleared by soldiers for the oil companies. While on the run Bee and her sister encounter Andrew and Sarah, a white couple who try to help but with horrific consequences.  When Bee’s sister is murdered Bee travels to England to find Sarah.  A harrowing story.

7    7. The Sopranos by  Alan Warner

Five choir girls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, a rural girl’s school, are let loose in the big town for a night of drunkenness, debauchery and shenanigans.  Their antics are hilarious and also often very sad.  Not only is this a book about teenagers written for adults, it was written by a man and proves that maybe men are not always from Mars. Alan Warner’s Morven Callar was a great female novel, The Sopranos is just as good.  Brilliant.

         8. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Fifteen year old Beth lives on an isolated Canadian farm beside a Native American reservation that is being terrorised by a daemon. This becomes a metaphor for how Beth deals with her violent father’s abuse and her treatment in the community. The focus of action is a moody menacing wood, and characters are both good and evil.  The novel is sprinkled with recipes and remedies from a scrapbook and is rich in sensory descriptions.

       9. The Taxi Driver’s Daughter by Julia Darling

Novel’s written by poets are normally beautifully written and this is no exception. This is a story of a family in crisis; two teenage daughters, a mother in prison for shop lifting and a father who just wants to run away from it all. Caris is fifteen and hugely affected by her mother’s imprisonment, she is bullied at school and falls in with the bad crowd. The hopelessness of Caris’ plight is brilliantly portrayed. You just want to tell her to sort her life, but the reader can’t and nor can she.

1    10. Purple Hibiscus by   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was Shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  The narrator fifteen year old Kambili tells the story of her family, ruled by a fanatical, misguided father who believes he is doing right by God, by half killing his family. It is only when Kambili and her brother go to live with a free thinking aunt that brutality and oppression of their old life become apparent to them.

      11. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

One of the most famous child narrators, Suzie Salmon, uses her vantage point of heaven to narrate her story. She tells the reader how she was lured into a hiding placed, raped and murders. But her family don’t know and Suzie watch them as they agonise over her disappearance and slowly disintegrate as a unit.  A grim tale very well told.

1    12. The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson

This is a Scottish classic autobiographical novel. Little Janie MacVean is a little girl who is happy playing amongst vagrants and tinkers, but eventually ends up in an orphanage when the ‘cruelty man’ deems her mother’s upbringing unfit. The novel is filled with colourful characters and an impressive writing style that uses simple homely verbs which hit the spot every time.  A delight.

I'd be surprised if you've never read a book with a child narrator, but if you haven't I would urge you to do so.  They are more reliable and much better fun than adults.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Adults Love a Child Narrator #1 - Boys

It is almost a year since my novel Ways of the Doomed was published and I am astonished at the mixed readership it has attracted.  When the marketing was first planned it was agreed to pitch mostly to the Young Adult market.  I have been visiting schools all year and it's true, the kids are enthralled.  When I wrote the novel I had no audience in mind, I just wrote the book I wanted to write, so I am delighted that adults are also loving reading the harrowing adventure of my young protagonist Sorlie Mayben.  This got me thinking about other books narrated by children that have an overwhelming adult appeal, often because the subject is bigger than the narrator’s story.  I trolled through my book journals and began listing and as the list grew I realised, if I was going to highlight the best, I’d need to separate them into two posts: boy narrators and girl narrators.   Boys first for a change.

1.    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 

The charismatic Huckleberry Finn must be the original teen on the edge.  He is boy of about thirteen years old who lives with his drunk father in the deep south of the United States of America.  His schooling is neglected and he is placed into the care of Widow Douglas and Miss Watson who try to civilise him with religion.  Huck feels trapped and escapes with his friend Jim, the black slave of respectable Miss Watson, to go adventuring.  The treatment of racial issues can be shocking for today’s reader despite the fact that the main protagonist is anti-racist. This is a fun adventure story with a rock hard moral attached.

2.    A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines first published 1968

Many fictional edgy teens are poorly treated at school and Billy Casper is no exception. Brought up by a wayward mother alongside a brutal half-brother, in a Yorkshire mining village, Billy has few choices in life. His world is turned around when he finds a kestrel to train.  The story is told over the course of one day with flashback sequences which lay out the hopelessness of Billy’s life.  The reader has no option but to hold their breath and hope for a happy ending.

3.    Let the Right One In by  John Ajvide Lindqvist

The story of a friendship between young vampire Eli and a twelve year old bullied boy Oskar is perfect for a youth reading project. The story is an easy read and gruesome enough to keep young boys interested but it also has sociological merit.
The story takes place in a deprived area, in 1980's Sweden, and shows a different Sweden to the one we are used to. The sense of place is probably the best aspect of the book. I have worked in a Stockholm 

suburb in summer and that was depressing enough. This novel is set in winter and there is a chill that lasts from page one until the end. 

4.    Maggott Moon by Sally Gardner 

This novel takes place in 1956 in an occupied Britain. The narrator is an imaginative fifteen year old boy Standish Treadwell.  He lives in in Zone Seven where the Motherland keeps everyone under surveillance.  His ball ends up on the wrong side of a wall and when he goes over the top to retrieve it he finds a moon mission mock up and a heap of propaganda.  This subversive fable is told in one a unique voice that rings through your head for days. Another story you can’t pin a reading age too.  A story of what ifs and an excellent read for any age.

5.    Butter by Erin Lange 

Butter is a morbidly obese teenage boy with a passion for the saxophone and a girl in his class who he contacts anonymously on line. This is a tale of all the loves in Butter's life; his mother's suffocating love that is killing him, his father's love that Butter is denied, his love of music and his love for this on-line girl.
It is at times funny and is often very sad. I found the character of Butter believable - he could be pretty tough and very funny but also obnoxious and sarcastic.  At no time did this novel fall into sentimentality but retained its focus to the end. A good well rounded tale.

6.    The Wall by William Sutcliffe 

William Sutcliffe chose a fictional, almost dystopian setting to tell a story set in a situation similar to the Palestine/Israel divide.
Thirteen year old Joshua loses his football, discovers a tunnel and finds himself on the other side of The Wall. There he befriends a young girl and her family and agrees to look after their olive grove which is on the wrong side of the wall from them. He faces many obstacles not least his violent stepfather. This is a story about fear, and how that fear controls the lives and the choices made by the characters on both sides of the wall. It is well balanced and does not try to answer any of the questions raised in this very complex situation. A great novel for everyone young and old to learn about this Middle East conflict.

7.    Shipwrecks by Akura Yoshimura

This is a simple yet heartbreaking story of nine year old Isaku and his family. They live in a poor village by the sea. While Isaku's father has gone into bondage for three years to allow the family to have some money to stay alive Isaku finds himself head of the household and main breadwinner.
The cyclical style of prose emphasizes the monotony of trying to stay alive year in year out and poetic descriptions of the element are always in connection to that struggle. The pace is gentle, in keeping with the changes in the seasons and the paradox between Isaku's childlike thoughts and his strength give the story a sad tone which is sustained throughout.

8.    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A coming of age horror story that Stephen King didn’t write! Middle America is visited in October by a carnival with a difference. The carousel can rejuvenate or age depending on the direction it turns, a maze of mirrors shows your nightmares and Mr Dark is hovering in the side lines. Two boys and a dad take on the evil owner and try to save themselves and the town from a wicked end. A horror masterpiece.

9.    Chronicle In Stone by Ismail Kadare

Albania’s leading literary figure and Booker prize winner, Ismail Kadare is one of my favourite authors.  Chronicle in Stone is set in his home town Gjirokaster, which is also the home town of the communist partisan leader and eventual dictator Enver Hoxha. The story is narrated by a child and at first shows normal family life in an ordinary Albanian town during WWII. The town is occupied and changes hands and allegiance several times. This situation makes for a fascinating and often cruel tale of gossip, superstition and injustice.

10.  The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses #1; The Crossing #2; Cities of the Plain #3

The Border Trilogy is, in my opinion, the best of McCarthy. John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, two young cowboys travel over the border into Mexico to begin their own adventures and a passage into adulthood that is far from pretty. The cowboy story brought up to date using all the elements, McCarthy excels in; tight, often witty dialogue, magnificent desert descriptions and a cruel sense of inevitability.