Diary


23C1C236-0B83-43C0-9F5C-18AC08E83906Some big news that I haven’t shared on the blog as part of this campaign of neglect, but in the last couple of days, my debut novel, The Scottish Book of the Dead, has been released. You can find it on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.

It’s published through Island City Publishing, a small indie press from my area of Michigan. Given that the story is set (mostly) in Scotland and has sprinklings of Scottish dialect throughout and is probably a tougher sell to a Mid Western population than some of the other titles in their stable, it speaks volumes and I’m hugely grateful that they’ve taken a punt on me. Celeste Bennett has been great to work with on this.

Back in 2010, I became interested in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I did some reading on them, learning that they were a collection of stories to guide a departed soul to the afterlife. I wondered what a Scottish version would look like. Turns out, there’s lots of swearing in it.

Initially, this existed as a short story, dealing with a man struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s dead and his unscrupulous brother-in-law’s intent to steal a silver photo frame. It was written entirely in Scots dialect and was published on the McStoryteller’s website and eventually featured on the Edinburgh eBook Festival.

I was driving home one from work one night with my then wife and I remember we were just coming into Alloa when I wondered aloud if I could stretch the idea out into a novel. Given that the Egyptian Book of the Dead was split into four sections, the idea of four intertwined novellas quickly developed. I wrote quite extensive notes, mapped the whole thing out, and basically wrote the 70,000 word story in seven weeks over the summer. It’s pretty much all I did that summer.

It wasn’t until the next year, through the help of a counselor, I realized how much of this story was me dealing with the death of my grandfather in 1990 and my dad in 1998. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious but at the time this came as a bit of a shock.

After one encouraging rejection from Canongate, every other publisher and agent had a problem with the dialect. Deciding that I’d rather be understood and the story was more than the dialect, I’ve toned it down quite a bit but hopefully left enough to give it that Scottish feel.

So there we have it. The book’s eight year journey to publication is over and now it’s a thing that exists in the world, on people’s Kindles and will be on people’s bedside tables, and that’s a pretty cool feeling. I’m a novelist. Wow.

Oh. Please buy my book.

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Do you watch the UK soap opera, Coronation Street? Do you have any interest in the cultural and linguistic differences between the UK and US?

Even if the answer to both of these questions is no, you may be interested to know that my wife, Helen, and I are producing a couple of podcasts related to the above.

The Talk of the Street is a weekly catch-up review of the recent happenings on the famous cobbles. We walk-through the episodes of that week, go over the main talking points, and cover the errors we’ve made in previous episodes.

Common Language questions the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the US and the UK are two nations separated by a common language. Recent episodes have investigated soccer vs football, interstate vs motorway, and immigration processes.

Please check them out and if you feel so inclined, a cheeky wee like and subscribe would be very much appreciated.

To the person who came to the blog after searching for “How long to drive from Alloa to Cowdenbeath” … it can be done in about 35 to 40 minutes, traffic dependent, if you take the Trans Fife Expressway (A92).

You’re welcome.

I don’t spend an awful lot of my time looking at the reasons why people end up on these pages. As far as I can tell, most of the traffic I get is from searches for various movie posters. However, every so often something jumps out at me.

Today, someone ended up at my blog after doing a search on أماندا هولدن and not only do I not know what that means, I’m not even sure what language it is.

Whatever the answer is, welcome. I hope you found what you were looking for.

… or Since I’ve Been Gone. Whichever works.

I’ve been neglecting the blog of late. Here are my top three reasons why:

  • There have been no movies worth going to see, never mind review. Actually, there have been a few but both my local multiplexes are more concerned about filling their 12 screens with whatever rank 3D fayre is on offer than, say, allow one measly screen to show the new Michael Winterbottom film.
  • My workplace has removed all stupid signage, I hope in response to my posts here.
  • Facebook.

None of this should leave you with the impression that nothing much has been going on. Lordy, no. Here’s just a sample of some of the shit that’s been going down chez moi. I guess that means more bullets:

  • On Monday, one of my stories — Beekeeper’s Blues — came 1st out of 518 entries and won $100 in Reading Writers’ Once Upon A Day competition. This is officially sweet. I’m not saying much about it, not because I’m not hugely chuffed, but because it still hasn’t really sunk in. 518. Jeez.
  • Every Day Poets took my Edgar Allan Poe inspired poem, Nevermore, and it’ll appear in a future edition. I always feel a bit of a fraud when one of my poems is picked up somewhere and this was no exception. Still, the poem’s a bit of fun and EDP agreed.
  • Meanwhile, another story — The Boy and the Broken Bird — was published on Every Day Fiction on 5 June and received some great feedback. Not that any one opinion is better than the other, but I was chuffed to attract a comment from xTx, whose work I really, really like.
  • Back in May, I attended my first writers’ conference. Falkirk Writers hold an annual tryst / seminar at the Town Hall and they have a number of competitions. I got a commendation for Postcards from the Departure Lounge and a lovely certificate to prove it. I spent most of the day enjoying the company of two members of Angus Writers Group, who’d travelled down from, erm, Angus, and between them, they picked up three 1sts, a 2nd, a 3rd and a commendation so it was worth their trip.
  • I’m very excited to announce that this week saw the launch of my attempt to enter the literary e-zine business. Waterhouse Review will debut on 1 October 2010 but before then, I need some top notch content. Writers can submit by clicking here and work that features in the zine will be rewarded to the tune of £2. Tiny acorns and all that, but I’ve long been of the opinion that writers deserve to be paid, even if it is just a token amount. Expect more news of this over the coming weeks.

So, anyway, that’s enough about me. How’ve you been?

One of the perks of being nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award and making it to the Notable Story stage was that I ended up becoming a frequent visitor to the blog of its organiser, Jason Sanford.

Jason’s post today will be of particular interest to any writer who has submitted their work and been burned. I don’t mean burned in a simple rejection way, but burned in a deeper, more affecting, live long in the darkest pit of the soul type way.

Like the new magazine that takes your story and then folds before the first issue sees the light of day but doesn’t take the five minutes necessary to let you know it didn’t work out. Or like the magazine that buys and prints a story but then takes forever to send payment until you chase it a million times over the course of a year until the editor finally sends you your five bucks and calls you a cheap bastard in the covering email.

Or, in Jason’s case, the journal that held on to his story for six years … six … years … before replying with a standard, mass-produced, form rejection …  form … rejection.

Today, Jason presents an open response to that rejection; a rejection of the rejection, but what I can’t figure out is why, after some 72 months, four-and-a-half thousand days, did the editor even bother to reply? Why didn’t he just shred the story and go about his day? Did he somehow imagine Jason holding vigil at his mailbox each morning, like the little doggie guarding his master’s grave?

More importantly, though, what the hell does a six-year slush pile look like, anyway?

Part of Alloa Writers’ calendar is a twice-yearly open mike night we call Hear, Here. I may have the order of the hears the wrong way round.

The latest such performance night was tonight and it’s now, in the middle of this sentence, that I realise I should’ve done a better job advertising it. Anyway, tonight was a bit different from others because we had a guest poet visit us.

Billy Letford doesn’t have a website. He doesn’t have any collections available to buy. I’m not even sure if he has any of his poems written down. He is, however, utterly amazing. I’ve never been so moved or entertained by poetry as I was by Billy’s work. That’s not to say I’ve never been moved or entertained and we had some great poets perform tonight, but Billy held the audience’s heart in the palm of his hand and he did whatever he pleased with it. Amazing talent. And talking to him after the show, he’s a lovely guy to boot.

Anyway, I’ve come across a video of his more comedic performance at DiScOmBoBUlate 08. It’s not the best recording but if you can make out his words — and I urge you to do your best to do so — hopefully you’ll get the idea.

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