First ideas are easy. They are flowers blooming above ground. Pretty, comforting, familiar. First ideas are flowers plucked too soon, liable to wither.
I want to dig beneath the soil. Seek roots, ideas that germinate in the dark. I want dirt beneath my nails. I want the secret things, untouched by starlight. Gristle and bone. But also blood, beauty.
On November 30th I’m releasing my novelette The Bone-Men into the world.
It feels exciting and scary all at once. Perhaps that’s to be expected sharing creative endeavours – a little bit of our soul is in everything we create. Overall, I feel joy that I can share this first step in my author journey with you.
September marks two significant milestones in my writing journey – six months since I decided to focus on writing fulltime and, more importantly, the completion of the second draft of my novel.
In some ways this second draft was much harder than the first. The hurricane of creation was replaced with picking through the wreckage, I was basically rewriting from scratch and sometimes it seemed like the story was getting worse instead of better. In fact, I’m going to write a blog post on all this soon because there’s a lot of advice and thought written on the first draft but not many writers talk about the second. (I now know why: it’s too traumatic).
This morning I woke up naturally, padded into the kitchen and watched the bristle of rain from the window while my tea brewed. The face of the church clock was obscured by silvered haze, the leaves and post-box red fruit of the apple tree glistened with damp.
I paused to appreciate the unmistakable stirrings of autumn, letting my mind drift to a mist-wreathed kingdom of seal-folk and ancient things.
A far cry from where I was a few months ago – stressed, frustrated and lost. Unable to slow down or appreciate my favourite time of day in my hurry to get out the door and to work on time.
I get quite a few messages asking me for tips on how to stay motivated while writing a novel, or even how to work up the motivation to start a project. And although what I have to learn about writing far outweighs the insights I can give, there are a few techniques that always help me out of a creative slump.
I’ve developed these strange habits without much thought over the years, so maybe they just work for me – but don’t let that stop you trying!
I’ve been feeling all kinds of things lately that I’m having trouble articulating. Things that seem best expressed in Gaelic and Scots, old words that, for me, have personal connotations far beyond their ordinary usage. Mostly though, I am just going to feel and create and go wherever my stubborn imagination plods. Or, if it is a russety drifting day then I will be still, read a book, watch the rain and listen.
These are the words that I hear…
June the month of fire flowers, of heady blooms and a sky that looks like the sea. A month to fall in love with folktales again, the darkwoods and the hidden paths. June with its summer fogs, sunlit picnics and childhood escapes, its antlered dawns and horned dusks.
A month for new islands, medieval chapels whose clean white stone houses dragons and caves that have crumbled into the devil’s hands. The sound of gulls, eerie and shrill. June – a month of revising the first ten scenes and finding grains of magic. A month of getting under the skin and hair and nails of characters who now have accents and arguments without me having to do very much.
Summer spells a season of slowing down, less work, more daytrips and lots of time to read.
While I’m sticking to my self-imposed editing schedule, I will take some time off, especially for reading breaks at my local café or outdoors if the weather is nice.
As I edit my novel I’m finding I crave immersive, intense worlds with characters so real I might meet them on the street (armoured bears aside), so my summer read reflect this. It’s a short list because I always let my mood dictate my reading so I want to leave room for the unexpected. I also received lots of book tokens for my birthday so I envisage a bookish day out that will add a few volumes to my summer reading pile. You know the kind of bookish day out I mean: browse books, break for lunch, browse more books, break for cake…
February’s writing prompt was all about landscapes, both inner and outer. The places we visit in our dreams or in real life, childhood haunts and spirit lands - the places where we felt ourselves. Reading over the month’s responses I’ve been transported to magical woods, a wintry fishing port, a glorious Japanese dawn and the most intimate corners of a writer’s soul.
I am humbled that so many talented writers have chosen to participate in February’s Month of Words and take readers on a journey into the kingdom of their souls. Below I have chosen eight of my favourite responses to this month’s tag with links to places where you can read more of the writer’s work.
In January I met with talking wolves, mysterious rebels and spoke with the spirits of winter. I saw the graves of giants, wrote enchantments and pondered the power of wishes.
The ‘My Month of Words’ prompt began simply as a way to keep my mind off my novel but I could not have envisioned just how liberating the process would be. It has been a joy to begin the year on such a whimsical, carefree note. Once I let go of the novel and trusted that a ‘writing holiday’ would do it the world of good, I’ve seen my writing grow in directions I could never have expected.
In the last few weeks have I settled into a new rhythm and felt my imagination unhook from its icy moorings at the edge of the sea to roam uncharted lands. This is the first time I’ve ever used prompts as a writer and I am surprised at how useful the process has been (and dismayed that I didn’t use them sooner!)
With Burns Night just around the corner I am turning to poems from my native land to inspire my writing sessions. As this month’s theme is ‘Folklore & Fairytales’ I’ve selected four poems of myth and magic, poems that encapsulate that eerie sense of uncanny which Scottish writing does so well. If you’re following #mymonthofwords on Instagram, I’ve included prompts below each poem on how you might use these poets’ interpretations of fairytales and legends to add a touch of the supernatural to your own writing.
If you are simply here for the poetry then I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I do.
Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been ~ Alan Alda
Last time we spoke I was writing the final pages of my novel. The right words arrived before Christmas and so for the past two weeks my manuscript has been sleeping in my drawer while I have strayed from the land of the seal-people back into a mortal world of celebration and feast. I have found that time in the mortal realm can be just as deceptive as faerie time, for in the blink of an eye the old year has slipped away with a flurry of snow and the soft crackle of fireworks. I find myself on the edge again, at the hinterland of story. It is a place of shifting sand, formed and yet unformed, where skin is shed, characters may change sex and the route, though carefully plotted, may still lead somewhere unexpected.
I am open to all possibilities.
A few weeks ago I travelled through a snowstorm looking for reindeer but was forced by the weather into Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore. Rat Murchus; ancient pine forest of the Caledonians, where an ancient winter still blows. The trees are bones, keepers of memory. Fir giants, covered in snow. Sometimes the place you end up in by chance is the place you need to be.
In the Caledonian pine forest the blizzard stopped. Time stopped, ran backwards, to a great winter of old. People came into the forest, dogs came. Folk came and went, leaving only footprints. I left my footprint too, returned to the blizzard I arrived in, but parted with the mark of the forest upon me.
October, the sky wrapped in colours of slate seas and tarnished gold. Atmosphere of witchery, Samhain approaching. Stand beneath the locked door, the crest of stone; a cat black as midnight and a legend invoking the dormant blood-courage of centuries past.
Here is your life’s path narrowing to a single point in time; a doorway, a key’s turning, a dark line scored in the palm.
Badenoch, Newton Castle, Cluny. Take this feral inheritance, a clan of cats. Nurture this bloody imagination, these violent dreams.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom
~ Anais Nin
That day has arrived. For many years, all my adult life, in fact, I have been keeping a secret. Sometimes a secret feels like a piece of magic within you that keeps you safe when it’s dark outside, and for many years my secret was a star that illuminated the darkness and lit fires of creativity within me. But somewhere along the way my secret became a stone, heavy and unbearable. Only in the past year have I linked persistent sadness and a chronic, frustrated helplessness to the unnatural amount of energy I am using to keep my secret hidden. It has become a burden to carry around all these years, and I know now that I have to either release it or be crushed by it.
So, what is this secret?
Equinotical winds, snow in April, intense sunshine the week before; not a particularly auspicious omen for starting anew. What Shakespearean weather will shake May? Unto the breach regardless, to begin at the beginning,with a sighing exposition on Under Milk Wood, the work which developed Tolkienesque appetites to something bordering on refined mysticism.
Of course, it began with a voice, Richard Burton’s velvet conjuration: now I was animal, a fox, eye transfigured, all the better to see the innate magic of this little town, Llareggub. Merlin awoke from his tree, Chaucerian portraits unfolded, eccentric only if you have never dreamed or read the Mabinogion, where a woman’s face can be a composition of flowers.
Finding Time to WritE
Why is finding time to write so hard?
Online advice mostly arrives at the same conclusions: schedule your writing sessions, work in short bursts and above all – cut out distractions. In other words: make time. Deep down, we know what to do. Yet we resist. Why? Since no one asked, here’s my two pence on the subject…
Last year I wrote a novelette called The Bone-Men. It’s dark fantasy, set in primeval Scotland with a few twists and turns along the way.
Novelettes are traditionally stories between 8,000 and 50,000 words. They’re uncommon and hard to sell (to traditional publishers, at least). So why did I write one?
Last week I took a deep breath and started The Artist’s Way.
It’s a 12-week programme by Julia Cameron (herself a prolific artist), designed to help ‘discover and recover your creative self.’ I’ve been curious about the process for years after hearing many artists describe it as life-changing. A discovery of true purpose, sustained creativity and sense of control over one’s life and art are the most commonly reported benefits.
THE NEW WRITING RULES
Reading is my love, but writing is my obsession. I’ve devoured the advice of famous authors, consumed countless writing blogs and podcasts, and recently discovered the world of ‘authortube’. This year I’m giving myself permission to delve even deeper into my obsession and spend on some author memoirs I’ve always wanted to read. On Writing by Stephen King and Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott are two I’ve had my eye on for a while.