Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Janice Galloway (b.1956)

Janice Galloway was born in Saltcoats, Scotland, in 1956. She was the second daughter of James Galloway and Janet Clark McBride, and came much later than the other children in the family; her mother once referring to the birth gap as "a mistake".

Her father, James, was an alcoholic and very unpredictable. “He was very sentimental about his children in public,” Janice once said, “but apart from that, I have few memories of him.” Her parents separated when she was four and her father died when she was six years old.

Janice was raised by a family with a strong connection to the Ayrshire mining industry and as was normal for that part of the world, money to support the family was hard-earned. As a widow, her mother, Janet, was entitled to a job in the local school as dinner lady as well as the state widow's pension, the equivalent of 50p per week.

Despite working through a deprived school system, she was bright and attentive and enjoyed learning. Music lessons drew the best out of her from an early age and in those days ear testing was carried out as standard. Any child showing some talent was given an instrument to play with free lessons thrown in. Galloway once admitted her school’s approach to music “changed my life”.

The school she attended had two orchestras, three chamber groups and various choirs. Janice joined them all. She received assistance and encouragement from her music teacher, Ken Hetherington, to the extent it was he who asked Galloway’s mother if she could go to University. After several attempts to persuade Janet, she agreed and Janice left for Glasgow University.

She studied Music and English before taking a year out and working briefly as a Welfare Rights Officer for Strathclyde Regional Council. She had become disillusioned with the establishment, but later returned to complete her degree.

After she graduated Janice found herself unemployed for some time. Fed up with seeing her daughter’s failure to turn a further education qualification into a serious pay packet, caused Janet to persuade Janice to go into teaching. She taught for ten years and later attended a writers' class at Glasgow University, where she used her creative energies to address the issues of depravation and the transformation she went through from child to adult.

Her acclaimed first novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989), a bleak story of alienation set on a council estate in Glasgow, is widely considered to be a contemporary Scottish classic novel. It won the MIND Book of the Year/Allen Lane Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, and it was short-listed for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. It was adapted for the stage by Michael Boyd and has been performed in Glasgow, London and Toronto.

Her second novel, Foreign Parts (1994), describes two women's adventures on a driving holiday through northern France and won the McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year. In that same year, she was awarded the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Galloway is the author of two collections of short stories: Blood (1991), which was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award, was also named as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Where You Find It followed in 1996 before Galloway took employment as a writer in residence for four Scottish prisons.

In 1999 she was the Times Literary Supplement Research Fellow to the British Library, and recently she has worked with the composer Sally Beamish on an opera libretto, Monster, based on the life of Mary Shelley, which was performed in Glasgow in the spring of 2002.

Her radio work for the BBC has included the two-part series Life As A Man, a major 7-part series entitled Imagined Lives, and, most recently, In Wordsworth's Footsteps. Her latest novel, Clara, about the nineteenth-century musician Clara Schumann, also published in 2002, is the winner of the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.

Also of that year was awarded a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award in order to work on a collaboration with visual artist Anne Bevan. The project incorporated text and sculpture, 'throwing a new perspective on the medical processes surrounding women', and was shown at the Hunterian Museum during early 2004.

Janice Galloway’s work is representative of contemporary Scottish life as she employs an ironic and knowing world-weary sense of humour to depict the condition of Scottish urban life. Her writing gives voice to the feminine condition in Scottish working-class communities, largely ignored by Scottish writers up until now.

As with other writers of the new Scottish renaissance, in the years after devolution her interests have turned from a consideration of the specifically Scottish to broaden her outlook as a participant in European and global culture. Galloway has emerged as a significant force in Scottish cultural life, and her writing has given voice to females within Scottish working-class communities, largely ignored by Scottish writers up until now.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


In the age of the pocket-sized techno-gadgetry that keeps our daily lives alphabetized, journalized, organized, and so on, no doubt the age-old pad and pencil are still the vital tools of choice for many writers -- myself included. Those of us more commonly known as "scribblers."

And clearly, as a matter of personal choice, simply jotting it down is still the most reliable and expedient way to get it all down. From that unusual sunset, to the sights and sounds of a local street performer, the snippets of an interesting conversation overheard at a local diner, or a catchy phrase on a billboard sign, these are all the things that inspire us as writers in our everyday lives. And always being outfitted with a pad and pencil (or pen) is the way that, over the years, we've been able to both capture and record it.

Then of course, once we're home again, we can collate these gems into working files or even first draft attempts in our computers, reacquainting us once again with the equally useful world of...technology.

Nevertheless, the age-old ritual of scribbling, will always remain for a good number of us -- an integral part of the everyday writing life.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Exposing Yourself.

And no, I don't mean it that way. I mean "getting out there" in the Literary World, so to speak.

When you are a writer, contrary to common belief, it's not as if you can sit behind a desk and crank out novels and watch them climb the charts while you hunker down safely in the comfort of your own home. Writing is an ACTION verb. You must be out promoting your book, and actively at that. Publicity, book signings, appearances, etc. Writing is not for hermits, in general.

You also need to surround yourself with people who write, who can give you HONEST feedback. The best friend I ever had, completely crucified my novel, pointing out every historical error I had made. (And there were more than a few!) After I got over my thin-skinned self, I realized that she had done me a great service. She felt comfortable in our friendship--comfortable enough to give me honest feedback, rather than polite and encouraging feedback, which was what I always got from my mother, sister, etc.

The key is this, if you want praise, get feedback from your family. If you want the truth, give it to your good friends, or your writer's group, whether it be online or at the local coffee shop every week. Feedback is VITAL to success in writing. None of us are equipped with perfect abilities by ourselves, we need to open our eyes and expose ourselves to society in the sense that we need to know what's going on out there, and the niche our writing would fit into.

This isn't the 1800's. We live in a fast-paced, commercial world, and we need to write and ACT accordingly. It's a tough business. The faint-of-heart (and hermits too) need not apply.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Support and Honesty

If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to surround yourself with people who support your work. This means re-training those around you. You are a writer – you are put on this planet to change people’s perceptions of the world via storytelling. You are not on this planet to fetch and carry and cater to them.

People have to learn that writing is not like folding laundry; they can’t interrupt you when you’re writing. You can lose your best idea, and it will never come back if someone interrupts you at the wrong time. I have a sign that I put outside the front door:

Writer at Work
Is this a mortal emergency?
Because if it’s not and
you interrupt me,
I’m going to be rude.

When I’m writing, I turn off the phone and I don’t answer the door. Period.

I make sure I get up every hour and half or so for a break, and then I check messages, in case there is an emergency. But I do not allow the interruptions.

I realize it’s different when you have kids; however, kids don’t have to be entertained 24/7, nor does a parent have to drop everything to assuage a child’s whim. Kids need structure and discipline. It doesn’t do permanent damage if the kid doesn’t get what the kid wants instantly. Plus, it teaches the child to respect the parent’s time. Absolutely build playtime with the kids into the day – that’s of primary importance. But, when the kid takes a nap, or has quiet time with a book – that’s your time to write. You can teach your children to look forward and to share your writing time – they can sit in the room and read, or paint or draw while you write. Yes, you’ll have one ear and one eye on them, as a parent does; but you’re spending quiet time together, and it’s something both of you can cherish. Make the time a positive thing, so your child doesn’t see your writing as competition.

I’ve done that with my godchildren – they could read or write or paint while I wrote. Video games, personal stereos turned up loud enough for me to hear, and television were absolutely forbidden. And then we went out and did something fun. One of my god-daughters is now the editor of her high school’s literary magazines.

And there will be other people in your life that need to be removed. People who make fun of your writing or tell you what to write or that you shouldn’t write – limit your time with them or cut them off completely. If you can’t eliminate someone from your life who’s negative, simply refuse to discuss your writing with them. “That topic is not open for discussion” and change the subject.

You can only be victimized by jealous people if you allow it. Firm, calm boundaries solve a lot of problems.

At the same time, you don’t want to surround yourself with “yes-people”. You need honest feedback. All writers have habits they fall into, patterns that don’t work that they repeat, typos, tired sentence structure, places where they miss the boat. After awhile, you stop seeing your work and you see it as you think it is. That’s when you need a support group of people who can tell you, honestly and, most importantly, constructively, where you’ve gone off the rails.

I like to have both writers and non-writers in that group. The non-writers are avid readers. They may not have an English degree, or write more than the annual Christmas letter. But, because they read so much, they have an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. And my close writer friends know my bad habits and love me anyway, but catch me out.

If writing is your path, something else has to go. You can’t be all things to all people and do everything the school, church, neighbors and family demand and still be a writer. Remember: writers are still writing, even if it looks like they’re staring at a wall.

People your life with those who are excited about your journey. It’s like running a marathon – you need people to cheer you, to hand you water and towels, to provide band-aids, and to guide you back when you take a wrong turn.

You don’t need people who tell you that you can’t do it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ivor Cutler RIP

First of all, please accept my apologies for both the lateness of this posting and of the non-posting of last week's entry. A combination of illness and other unavoidable legal scenarios have conspired against me.

Today, later than ever before, I'd like to remember Ivor Cutler, who died last week. Take it away -

Ivor Cutler, the famous Glaswegian poet and musician, died last week at the age of 83. Cutler, wrote songs and poetry in a surreal voice, was still performing his work to live audiences up until 2004. He wrote many books and radio shows, and was a hugely talented illustrator.

Cutler appeared regularly on the John Peel Radio Show, performing live to millions of BBC radio listeners. The Beatles, who were immense fans of his, even gave him a role in the film Magical Mystery Tour where he played the character Buster Bloodvessel.

His 1967 album Ludo, produced by George Martin, was re-released in 1997 by Creation Records, the ex-label of UK rick band Oasis.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Glasgow, Cutler attributed his artistic talents to the displacement he felt when his younger brother was born.

"Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am, and therefore not as creative," he said. “Without a kid brother I would have been quite dull."

He served with the RAF in World War II, before turning his attentions to teaching. He eventually moved to London but continued to teach, at the same time pursuing his artistic career. He retired from teaching in 1980 but continued to produce works of amazing beauty up until his death last week.

He will be sadly missed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Book Sense

Congratulations to The 2006 Book Sense Book of the Year Winners in the categories of:

*Adult Fiction
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

*Adult Nonfiction
Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

*Children's Literature
Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke

*Children's Illustrated
Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth

Independent booksellers have chosen to honor these handselling favorites from among a wide array of interesting, unique, and thought-provoking titles sold in their stores during the past year. And, in a time when by many reports, book sales are on the decline, these awards are certainly a breath of fresh air for the industry, for authors, and for regular book-buying consumers alike.

Read more here about these awards, and other recent news from the ABA (American Booksellers Association).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Writing Through Fear

It happens to all writers. You’re chugging along. The plot flows, the characters talk and, suddenly . . .

It’s not a block.

But you begin to second-guess yourself. You begin to edit as you write, not because the work is ready for editing yet, but because you’ve lost confidence in yourself.

Sometimes it happens because you got a rejection regarding another project. Sometimes it comes after a harsh session with your writers’ group. Sometimes, a choice word from someone close to you sets you off, or an inconsiderate comment from a non-writer acquaintance.

The words start to look odd on the page. You start to think you’re no good as a writer, or that you can’t possibly make it a career.

Take a deep breath.

And don’t leave the page.

Push through it, write through it. Don’t let your own fears or someone else’s agenda be what stops you from writing. Remember, writing requires an enormous amount of time and space, both physically and emotionally. Those around you have to adjust. It often doesn’t fit into their agendas and their convenience, so they will try to sabotage you.

If you are serious about writing, you must remove these people from your life no matter what. Even relatives can be controlled – must be controlled – when it comes to your writing. Your writing is non-negotiable.

Don’t use others as your excuse not to write. And then, get out of your own way and write.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Doing It All

"How do you do it all?" I encountered that question twice last week. The short answer is 'you can't.' You'll run yourself ragged if you try. You can, however, make changes in your life to make room for dreams, children, etc. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when making changes.

1) Know yourself.

Some people don't have a problem letting housework slide. Others, myself included, cannot focus in a messy, cluttered environment. Housework comes before writing in my daily routine because I want to be at my best when I greet the page. Some writers swear by getting up an hour earlier, some insist on sticking to a routine. I have a basic routine built around my daughters' needs. The important thing is to know your own quirks.

2) Prioritize

I can't (and won't) rank certain aspects of my life by how important they are to me. My top priorities are my daughters, my career, my marriage and myself. My physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing fall under the 'myself' heading. Friends, volunteer work and my extended family come right after those top four. If I created a pie chart of how I spent my time each month for a year, no two months would be the same. Circumstances sometimes demand that I focus more closely on one thing. If my husband was sick, he might appear to be more important based solely on the amount of time I spent taking care of him. If I had a deadline, my career might seem more important. I have interests outside of the seven categories listed above. I just don't pursue those interests actively at this point in my life. Last year, I planted flowers all along the front of the house. Weeds overtook the flowers. I wanted flowers but weeding isn't high on my priority list so that particular chore kept getting put off. This year, I'll stick to a few plants in decorative containers placed strategically around the yard. I don't see my friends often and I rarely sit down in front of the TV. When I do sit in front of the TV, it's not to watch a popular program. It's to watch a DVD with my children or husband. We got rid of Dishnetwork years ago. I think our TV picks up two local channels. I don't miss it.

3) Lower Your Expectations

Don't give yourself a 'to do' list only someone with superhuman powers can complete. I once talked to a woman who planned to make every meal from scratch, grow all her own vegetables, make clothes for her children, volunteer at the hospital, coach little league and climb the corporate ladder. After a short time, she lowered her expectations. She makes one meal from scratch on the weekend and other foods through the week when time permits. She grows a few vegetables and makes Halloween costumes. She buys the rest. She's volunteering as a coach for now and later, when her kids are grown, will volunteer at the hospital. It's great to have a list of things you'd like to do just remember you don't have to do them all now.

4) Don't Beat Yourself Up

There will be times when things fall apart. Even the best juggler drops a ball now and then. One bad hour doesn't have to ruin your day and one bad day shouldn't ruin your week. Make the next one better and cut yourself some slack. A bad day, week or month doesn't make you a failure at anything. It makes you human. People get sick. Cars break down. Life happens. We often look back after something happens and say, "I should’ve seen it coming. There were warning signs." To that, I offer Grandma's words of wisdom. "Shoulda, woulda, and coulda ain't movin' you forward."

There are a few important things to remember. The only 'wrong way' to be a writer is to never put a word on the page. What works for others may not work for you. Try different things until you find what works for you. Most important of all, if it's all a bunch of drudgery to you, make some changes. You should enjoy your life.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Book Relief: For Those In Need

Book Relief is an unprecedented, publishing industry-wide effort that has already distributed countless numbers of new books:
  • to those displaced by the 2005 hurricanes,
  • to organizations, schools, and libraries supporting the evacuees, and
  • to replenish the schools and libraries being rebuilt on the Gulf Coast.

In New Orleans, last year during the horrific episodes of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, 118 of 126 schools sustained damage; in Mississippi, 300 schools were damaged, 24 of them severely damaged or destroyed. Nearly 190,000 Louisiana students were displaced. As organizations start to rebuild the Gulf Coast, Book Relief will be there to supply them with new books as they reopen.

Read more here about this *ongoing* effort, and the help that is still needed to place books into the hands of our nation's schoolchildren, as well as others who need them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Let's Be Honest

Writers have taken to tip-toeing around issues that concern us, cost us money, and, most importantly, cost us emotional and creative energy, simply because we’re afraid of annoying “the biz.”

While we all know that we’ll have to do things we’d rather not, it’s important that we admit to ourselves, and, if we wish, to our immediate support group, the aspects of handling a writing career that we hate.

I hate the fact that writers are expected to do the jobs of the marketing and publicity departments in addition to the actual writing of the book – only the writer’s not getting paid for the additional work.

A good part of my freelance business is PR writing. It takes up a good bit of my freelance business for the very fact that it pays well, and it requires a definite set of skills that are different from novel or short-story writing.

Yet, once a novel is picked up, I’m expected to do an enormous amount of work FOR the publicity and marketing department (not necessarily WITH them, but FOR them) – without pay.

It’s time to sit down and tote up the figures if I was paid hourly as a freelancer for such an assignment. Just roughly figuring the ballpark puts in the thousands of dollars.

“Oh, but you’re selling books and building your audience and working your way towards the best seller list . . .”

I might buy that argument first time out, as I’m building credits. But there’s got to come a point where the writer looks at the overall price of what is paid versus what is demanded and starts crunching numbers like any astute business person. This is our business, not our hobby. We should not be penalized simply because we’re passionate about our work. We should be PAID for it.

Time to bring out those negotiating skills.

I think we should start figuring in that additional time and work when we talk advances. Yes, most of the time we’re so thrilled someone actually wants to publish the baby of our soul that we accept any advance. But start sitting down and figuring out how much that advance works out to, per hour or per word, and how much additional money the time spent on publicity and marketing would bring in, if you were doing it for someone else’s book.

Once you’ve got a couple of books published and have established your track record, start pushing your advance figure higher. Do you have to tell your agent or publisher how you reached your number? Of course not. But know it for yourself, so that you know you’re actually getting paid for the work you’ve done.

Not only will others respect you for getting paid closer to what you’re worth, you’ll respect yourself.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Aye Robot

Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed Canadian author of such titles as Oryx and Crake and the Man Booker Prize winning The Blind Assassin, astounded the London book Fair yesterday by unveiling the worlds first LongPen, a device which enables writers to sign books anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of their armchairs.

When asked by a journalist if it was an early April Fools’ joke, Atwood said, “Would I really go to the trouble of coming here to launch it if it was a hoax?”

Atwood came up with the idea after a particularly exhausting book-signing trip, which saw her travel to several far flung nations in a short space of time. "It was pretty strenuous,” she said, “I thought, 'wouldn't it be good if you could sign books with a signature that whizzed through the air?'

When she returned home she set up her own company and developed the LongPen. It works when the author inscribes onto a special tablet, which is then converted electronically. Whatever is written onto the tablet is immediately replicated by the electronic arm on the other side of the world. A video link ensures the recipient can still see the author and they are even able to conduct a conversation through the technology.

But will this innovation spell the end of the book tour? Or is it just another flash-in-the-pan nice-to-have invention?

Atwood doesn’t think so. “It won’t replace the book tour, and I am still very keen to meet my fans. Amazon has changed things over the years. Now books are international and there is a lot of pressure to be in 17 places at once. Authors will still visit major cities but this will enable them to do signings in places they would otherwise never visit.”

Next week: The robotic fiction writer.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Author And Trailblazer

This past week many of us mourned the death of science fiction author, Octavia Butler, who left us suddenly, at the age of 58.

A gifted writer who ushered in scores of readers who would otherwise never have ventured into the SF and fantasy genres, without a doubt, she will be sorely missed. For me personally, I was ushered in with total ease when I first read her late 1970s series titled, The Patternist.

As mentioned on many occasions during her notable career, her father was a shoeshine man who died when she was a child in her native Southern California, and her mother was a maid who brought her along on her domestic jobs. Yet, she rose from these humble beginnings to become one of the country's leading writers -- a female African- American pioneer in the domain of science fiction, which at the time was an area few writers of color had attempted to lend their voices. And once there, needless to say, Octavia Butler did indeed raise the bar even higher for *all* writers worldwide who sought to follow her.

You can read more here about this phenomenal American writer who was, by far, a unique author as well as a profound visionary.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Addicted to Books?

I recently lamented in my writer's forum that I wished there was a "Bookaholics Anonymous" because I have to admit, I'm obsessed with the durn things. I collect everything from the classics, to first editions, mostly hardcover, and I stack them everywhere in my poor office.

I have a problem. Or I guess you could call me a "Book Enthusiast," if you're the Glass-is-half-full Type.

Hey, Stephen King said in his book On Writing: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." This is very true. If you aren't an especially prolific reader, how on earth can you expect to be a good writer? You need to see what's out there. You need to read the works of others. You need to educate yourself.

And you need books to do this! (Or at least a well-worn library card)
Yes, I'm rationalizing, but imagine my relief and surprise to learn that I am not the only one in my writing group with this "addiction." Everyone else seemed to have it. A hazzard of the trade, I suppose.

I guess there are worse vices...