That Difficult Second Album

I’m sorry! I had the best of intentions – but, again, I haven’t posted for ages… I have a huge range of excuses for this but there are three main reasons and I’ve only myself to blame. Well, my husband too. Anyway, them aside, like most new(ish) writers, I have been trying to earn a crust and also deal with book-related admin. Also I have been metaphorically running as fast as I can away from the prospect of finishing this book that I’m working on.

Again, I have various excuses for this too. Mostly though I think it’s a confidence thing. You finish your first book and you have high hopes but realistic, small expectations. But, the thing is, it’s all well and good having a word with yourself where you remind yourself how hard publishing is and how many books are out there and blah, blah, blah. But it’s quite another thing to get back in the saddle and strike off westwards. When you’ve written one book a whole new bunch of potential horrors present themselves. Now you’ve had your debut shot, the next thing you have to do is write something else. Gah!

I already knew what I was going to write about next while I was finishing Anywhere’s Better Than Here. Months later, I’m still relatively happy (although “happy” is not at all the right word) with that idea and I’m now about 3/4s of the way through the first draft. The editor I’m working with has been positive and the initial readers are enjoying it, but I can’t seem to work up the interest and focus to finish the bloody thing.

Every time I sit down in front of it, I feel like it’s looking at me sullenly, annoyed that I’m so intermittently available to tell the story. And I feel terrible! I know I need to take the advice I give people when I facilitate writing classes. Just get on with it! First drafts are meant to be shit!

I know! I know!

So now I need to put that voice that says, “you’re not really a writer – the book was a fluke” out of mind (or at least ignore its mutterings and cheeky looks) and just get it done.

I knew this would happen…

When I started this blog I had a feeling that I’d be true-to-form and lose interest and wander off. However, I will not be beaten by my inner work-shirker and am now going to take up where I left off. Please forgive my slackitude.

Right, since last we spoke, I’ve chaired a few exciting salons (including A.L. Kennedy and William Letford), attended the fabulous happening that is the Stanza International Poetry Festival (finally seeing Robin Robertson), been teaching at Stirling University (really good fun and a nice new challenge), read at the lovely Aye Write festival (for the gutter 08 launch, with Claire Quigley and John Jennett who were both great), started working with a mentor, crashed my car (narrowly escaping death, but totally murdering my new car) and visited a psychic (more of that in a later post). I have also written about 1000 words. Not all of them tremendously marvellous.

Not surprisingly, in amongst all these hectic happenings (which have also included two funerals and a christening in the last two week period) my mood has been -ahem- variable. I need to start a routine of sorts and get writing seriously. I’ set myself a deadline of finishing the first draft of my current project by mid August. And then I set another, sort of internal deadline, of mid June. Which is quite soon but possible, I think.  I’ve got to write another 40,000 or so words. So, if nothing else, I’ve given myself a challenge. I just need to see it through, which I’ve established is something i’m not amazing at.

However, all (well, most) things are possible. So we’ll see…


The Next, “Next Big Thing” Post

Remember a few weeks ago I took part in a writers’ chain about new publications? Well, here’s the first of the marvellous writers: J Robert Lennon. I’ve been a big fan of Lennon’s since I read Mailman several years ago and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all his other books, short stories and also music. His latest book, Familiar is  really unusual, clever and gripping. Check out his website here:

And here is his questionnaire:

• What is the working title of your next book?
It just came out–it’s a novel called FAMILIAR.
• Where did the idea come from for the book?
There’s a longish essay about this in the back of the book, but basically, it was inspired by a road trip I had to take in the wake of the September 11th attacks here in the US. It felt almost like a parallel universe–that was the initial inspiration.
• What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction, I suppose, though I’ve been half-seriously calling it Parenting Horror.
• What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh lord, who knows? A movie would be a completely different thing. I’d like to see such a thing happen, but it wouldn’t be the book.
• What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
“A woman is transported to a parallel world where her dead adult child is still alive, and the experience makes her call her entire life into question.”
• Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It was published by Graywolf Press in the US, and will be published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail.
• How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About eight months. Revision took twice that!
• What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Perhaps Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER. That was an influence, anyway.
• Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above!
• What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It has a lot of wonky science in it, and ten pages of somebody playing a videogame. That stuff was great fun to write.

My Nationwide Tour (of Sorts) and Reviews (Both Thoughtful and Arsey)

The last ten days have been super busy for me featuring, launches; the skeleton of an Irish giant; a wonderful boutique festival; trial by fire on Amazon reviews and a lovely session with the MA course at Manchester University.

I’m glad to be back though and this morning I woke up to a really great review by Cynthia Rogerson in the new issue of the always excellent Northwords Now. Here it is for your perusal:

“Reading this novel is a little like opening up a bag of donuts covered in chocolate, gorging yourself, then just as you’re scolding yourself, because nothing that’s so easy to eat can be good for you, you discover a secret ingredient list on the back. It turns out the donuts are chock-full of vitamins, fibre, life-enhancing minerals and proteins. So, this book is that rare thing – both delicious and good for you. A literary mainstream novel, with a young angst-ridden heroine, a monotone boyfriend, and the villainous mysterious older man who leads the heroine a merry dance.

Laura is instantly likeable because she manages to be miserable humorously. She hates her job, her boyfriend, her appearance, her home. She hates herself, and is at rock bottom of disillusionment. Who wouldn’t warm to her? But I couldn’t help also sympathising with her unambitious boyfriend, who prefers violent computer games and take away curries to conversation and cooking. It all seemed so real. The novel focuses on that phase of adulthood not often written about. The truth about being young and healthy and employed and not being homeless or alone? Sometimes it is still all crap.

This is Zöe Venditozzi’s first novel, which is not obvious from reading it. The style is rather like Laura Marney – unpretentious and confident, modern and edgy. The tone is blackly funny with a kind of yearning romantic thread. The rather convoluted plot is competently propelled by her deft dialogues and credible characters, and of course, the suspense of the unsolved mystery. I was swept along, forgot everything else I meant to do that day, and basically gobbled up the whole bag of donuts. I recommend this book to anyone who is not in the mood to work at reading, but still requires emotional substance. Deceptively light, the book still delivers real punches. I am looking forward to her second novel.”

It means so much to get a good review. Obviously because when you write a novel, it takes so much time and effort, but also because you’re really putting yourself out there when you write. I’ve had the weird experience of someone making a real meal of a review (of only the first 20 pages or so of the book!) on Amazon which has taken all my self control not to fire back at. It isn’t that you expect reviewers (whether consummate professional or rank amateur) to love your book, that would be weird and unrealistic, but I would hope that if someone’s going to take the time to review that they’d take the time to finish the actual book. A great deal has been written about sock-puppetry etc. on Amazon and we all know about trolls and their cloaks of anonymity on the Internet so I’m not going to go on about it here. However, it is weird that some people feel they have the right to stay anonymous whilst attacking someone in the public eye (even on a teeny-tiny scale like me). Personally, I wouldn’t “say” something online that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, but then I can also tell the difference between a novel and non-fiction and I understand how artistic license works, so perhaps it’s apples and pears. Anyway, the ridiculously detailed and, frankly, arsey partial-review on Amazon has given me plenty of comedy material for two recent events and really just serves to make the reviewer look foolish. It certainly won’t make me question my style or alter my writing – if anything, the review shows me I’m doing the right thing. As a wise writer friend told me, “Put it this way: who likes you? Cool people. Who hates you? Assholes. The end.”

The Next Big Thing!

The lovely Pippa Goldschmidt ( invited me to take part in the Next Big Thing where writers answer some questions about their latest work and then pass the baton on to other writers. It was interesting to think of concise anwers to the questions and I’m delighted that Pippa invited me to get involved.

Here we go:

• What is the title of your book?

My debut novel is called Anywhere’s Better Than Here.

• Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started a short story about a woman called Laureline who had a black eye. The story seemed to be a part of something much bigger and I decided to write a novel with Laureline (who became Laurie) as the central character. She doesn’t have a black eye in the novel.

• What genre does your book fall under?

Hmmm… It’s easier to say what it isn’t: Chick lit, fantasy, sci-fi, romance! But, if forced I’d say literary fiction? Or high end commercial fiction? I hate labelling it. It’s a story about a woman and it’s blackly funny but also sad.

• What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

She’s in her mid twenties so I’d probably choose a slightly younger Samantha Morton or Kelly MacDonald.

• What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Laurie lives with her computer game-obsessed boyfriend who she can barely be bothered to speak to and she works in a meaningless job in an office where she avoids her co-workers. When Laurie meets an older, secretive man things take an unexpected turn and Laurie realises she needs a plan, and fast.  (Sorry, that’s two sentences.)

• Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Published by Sandstone Press and I’m represented by the Jenny Brown Agency

• How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About two years.

• What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

• Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I was inspired by music a great deal. Certainly where the atmosphere and, at times, sense of humour is concerned. I listened to things like Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver for atmosphere and The Smiths influenced the black humour. Other than that, I’m always inspired by great writing like Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Denis Johnson, Barbara Gowdy, Lorrie Moore and loads of other people I am in awe of.

• What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are scenes about shoplifting, how to escape dinosaurs, transsexual piano teachers and some smooching.

Anywhere’s Better Than Here is published by Sandstone Press and is available from all good book shops.

The next five writers who I approached/picked on are:

Russel D McLean is a writer, reviewer and general miscreant. He is the author of the Scottish noir novels, The Good Son, The Lost Sister and Father Confessor.

Lesley McDowell is an author and critic living in Scotland. She reviews regularly for the Herald, the Scotsman and the Independent on Sunday. Her current book is Between the Sheets:The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers.

Matt Hill is a copywriter, proofreader and story maker-upper. His novel, The Folded Man, was shortlisted and final-isted for the Dundee International Book Prize 2012. It’ll be published by Sandstone Press in May 2013.

Anna Stewart writes plays and short stories. Her work has been published in various journals and she is currently working on a collection called Pleasureland.

J Robert Lennon is an American writer, teacher, critic, musician and blogger. He recently published his sixth novel, Familar.

Launches, Legends and a Distinct Lack of Actual Writing.

Blimey, the last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy!

First off I had my launch which was also the opening event for the Dundee Literary Festival. It was so amazingly gratifying to finally have the book in my hand (although I had to borrow my sister’s copy to read from as my copies hadn’t arrived!) and have a captive audience there to lsiten to it. There was a great turn out and the stock that Waterstone’s Dundee had in actually sold out. Nice feeling. The feedback from people has been great so far, but I’m still waiting to see an “official” review.

Then we were into the Literary Festival which saw many fabulous literary stars appear in Dundee. Highlights for me were definitely hearing Bernard MacLaverty and Colm Toibin read and meeting Iain Banks (I couldn’t go in to his event, but he held my taxi door open for me afterwards and I got a bit starry eyed, I mean, come on, The Wasp Factory!!!). All three were so friendly and enthusiastic and the readings I heard were amazing. I’ve taught several stories by Bernard MacLaverty in schools and it was lovely to hear him read. Colm Toibin was a gem as well and his talk was far ranging and clever, but funny too. All of them are real literary heavyweights (horrible term) and it was an absolute pleasure to meet them as I’m just starting out on my writing career.

In the middle of the Dundee Festival I popped down to Edinburgh to read at an event at the Wordpower Radical Book Festival with Kirsty Gunn. Kirsty spoke about new ways of reading and I read a bit (but not in an innovative way) and we answered a few questions and I was doing something that real writers do. I was actually sitting up there, reading from my actual book, people were listening enough to ask pertinent questions and I was able to answer them. Totally satisfying.

Then I came home and did some washing and real life resumed. As it does. And I’m still sending out book related emails, setting up events and thinking of ways to get my book out in the world as well as looking after the children, earning money in a variety of part time jobs, thinking of ways to bring down the  patriarchy, reading as many books as I can manage etc. etc.

So for now, I’m going to make some tea and think about maybe trying to write something.


Or alternatively, I may lay my head down on the table and just have a quick nap.

Impending Publication Date




Well, it’s been a long, long held dream of mine to have a book published and finally it’s happening this week. You’d think that I’d be bursting with excitement and enthusiasm, but actually, I’m more nervous than anything else. Will people like it? Will it be reviewed positively? Will it be reviewed at all? You’d think that someone as thin-skinned as me would have considered the idea that if you publish a book people might, y’know, read it – but no, I didn’t really think this one through.

But as people keep saying to me, I’ve done the hard part. Now I just need to sit back and see what happens – satisfied that I’ve done my best and leave the rest up to the universe. Or something.

Except, these days being a writer also means being a promoter, a marketer and a saleswoman. So, I’m writing emails, looking for events and telling people what’s good about this book when really I just want to say, “read it. It’s pretty good”.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting up details of events I’m doing and some blogs that I’m writing for and I’d love it if you’d take the time to read my book when it’s out.

It’s actually pretty good.

Nice to see you!

I’m a writer.

My debut novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here, comes out with Sandstone Press in October. The book is about a young woman who has a crummy job, a boring boyfriend and no idea of where her life’s going. But one night she meets a mysterious older man and before she knows it, things take a turn for the weird.
I’ve had work published in various places including New Writing Scotland, Transmission, Dogmatika and New Writing Dundee. I was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2010.