Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged in The Next Big Thing by fellow writer Moira McPartlin (website: whose first novel, The Incomers has recently been short listed for The Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award 2012.

I'm instructed by Moira to tell you all about my next or latest book by answering these questions and then I tag other authors about their Next Big Thing. So here I go!

What is the title of your latest book?
It’s called Second Chances: true stories of living with Addison’s disease. I’m the editor.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A couple of years ago, I found out I had a rare autoimmune disease called Addison’s. It’s a life-threatening disease, which is a bit scary, so I set out to contact other people who are affected by the condition as I wanted to know how other people deal with it. I invited fifteen to write their story and it’s these which I’ve gathered together, with mine, in Second Chances.

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s creative non-fiction. Life writing. Memoir. Call it what you will.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Och, Angelina Jolie as me, of course :-)  I suppose my hero partner Keith would want to be James Bond Daniel Craig.  As for the other contributors - they all have amazing stories. There would need to be lots of red carpet stars to play them. From Deanna and Natalia who are long distance runners, to Brett who river races, to Jasmine, who was diagnosed with this life-threatening condition just twelve days after having her baby. And the hospital staff, who were the real heroes, would definitely have more than walk-on parts.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sixteen men and women from across the world seize a second chance when their world is rocked by a deadly disease.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It was published on 18 November 2012 as an e-book by PotHole Press, which is a small e-publishing company my husband Keith has set up. Second Chances is available on Kindle and Kobo.  Because Addison’s disease is rare, there isn’t enough of a market for it to be viable through the traditional book publishing model. E-publishing gives it that chance to appeal to Addison's people across a global market.

Here's the link to Second Chances on Kobo

And here it is on Amazon

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I put out an appeal for contributions via Facebook and other forums in May 2012, and passed the 65,000 word finished manuscript to PotHole Press in October 2012.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Any that deal with facing illness and refusing to give in to it. 

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to hear people talk about how they got their head round this condition. I wanted to know how people seized the second chance modern medicine had given them. But with Addison’s disease being quite rare, there aren’t any books like that out there. There are medical texts, but I wanted to read about people’s experiences. That’s what inspired me to compile it, and I found like-minded people who were happy to share their stories for the benefit of others who are newly diagnosed.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
The contributors come from Canada, the USA, the UK, Belgium, Australia, South Africa and South Korea. There’s some harrowing stuff in there, but there’s also humour, and some mighty emotional highs. It’s real ‘human interest’ stuff and is immensely readable.

Here are some lovely authors I've tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing! …..

David Manderson – author of Lost Bodies
Leela Soma – author of Twice Born and Bombay Baby
Andrew Doig – author of Wee Davy
Maureen Myant – author of The Search.

Sincere thanks to Moira McPartlin for tagging me. And good luck at the Saltire Awards on St Andrew's Day!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Second Chances

When I was diagnosed with Addison's disease a little over two years ago, I felt very isolated. Addison's is life-threatening. Around the world people die from it, and I only survived because I had access to good doctors and modern medicine - steroid hormones to replace the ones my body no longer produces.

Addison's affects only 14 in 100,000 people. So, in Scotland, with its population of five million, there may only be about 700 people who understand it. There are no local support groups, and I really missed being able to speak with fellow Addisonians to find out how they coped with the physical and psychological shock of ill-health, diagnosis and aftercare.

In summer 2012, I put out an appeal on one of Facebook's Addison's groups and set out to commission stories from Addison's people around the world.  I wanted honesty, but I wanted, also, something uplifting. Something that demonstrated that people could be struck down by this illness, but could take control of their new health regime and live a full life.

I was privileged to work with fifteen men and women who shared their experience with me. They shared their stories because they, too, understood that sense of isolation newly diagnosed Addison's people feel, and because they wanted people to know more about this rare condition. In addition, my endocrinologist very kindly supplied the ideal medical preface to the collection.

The contributors come from the UK, Canada, the USA, Belgium, South Africa, Australia and South Korea, and their stories are all different, since their lives are all different. One thing is the same - they all want to make the most of the second chance modern medicine has given them.

That's why I called the collection of our life stories 'Second Chances'. Or, more properly, 'Second Chances: true stories of living with Addison's disease'.

'Second Chances' has been published as an e-book by PotHole Press, and is available on Amazon around the world for Kindle. Versions formatted for I-pad, Kobo and other e-readers will be available soon.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Feeding the Imagination

I've been teaching and mentoring students of creative writing for (rubs fingers over mouth) years now, so I decided it was high time I put some thoughts together and produced my own little book of hints and tips for writers.

So here it is:

'Creative Writing Prompts to Feed the Imagination' is now available for your Kindle, and if you don't have a Kindle, you can still access it - for less than £1 - if you go to the Amazon page, look to the right hand side and follow the instructions to download one of the free Kindle reading apps. This way, you can read it on your computer or phone. And be inspired by the many prompts and suggestions, such as one-line ideas for stories, poems and autobiographical writing. There are photo prompts, too, and plenty of quirky ideas to get you thinking laterally.

I've included some in-depth help, too, about creating believable characters, about choosing the best viewpoint for telling your stories, and about doing research.

I hope you'll enjoy it! Let me know your thoughts on it, either by commenting here, or by posting a review on Amazon.

Incidentally, I'll be doing a session about e-book publishing at the Scottish Writers' Centre in Glasgow on Wednesday 7 November, at 2pm. Keith, from the PotHole Press, will be there, too. We're looking forward to it! Why not come along to hear our views on the reasons for going down the e-book road? For more information, visit the SWC website or get in touch via the comment facility here :)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

What's in a name?

I received an email a couple of weeks ago from someone called Carol McKay. At first, I thought my own email address must have been hit with a virus and I was spamming myself, but then I read the first few lines and realised this was an email from another Carol McKay. Like me, she said, she was a writer. She went on to say she would need to use a pen-name to avoid confusion, since I'd already bagged her real name.

In fact, there's another Carol McKay out there in the publishing world, too. She's the one I hope most sincerely people don't think is me. I mean no disrespect, here, but our writing styles and subject matter are very, very different and, to be honest, I was really quite angry when I realised that Amazon in the USA had allowed her to use the same name as me. Already, one friend has told me he bought her novel at the same time as he bought my short story collection, thinking both were mine.

In the world of big business, no two companies would be allowed to use the same name. Branding is that important. Is it different in publishing? I'm not likely to try to take someone to court for using the same name as me, even though I did get there first!

When I worked with Eileen Munro on her autobiography, I was dimly aware that there was another Eileen Munro out there, with a big reputation. Her writing's in the same field as Eileen's biography, except that she is a highly regarded professional commentator on child abuse, whereas the Eileen I was working with writes about being one of the victims. That Eileen had changed her name to Munro to reflect the mountain she'd had to climb to get free from her past (a munro being the name for a mountain in Scotland higher than 3,000 feet). In my opinion, it was a worthy and inspired name choice. How could I then go on to say that I didn't think she should use it? English language publishing has a global sweep and surely there must be some name overlap?

Anyway - back to 'Carol McKay'. Bear in mind that there may be more than one of us out there on the Amazon shelves. If you're looking for me and you want to be certain, you could look at my author page on Amazon.

Incidentally, the Carol McKay who already has books out has written a novel about the life of a character from the Bible and it's very Christian in tone and outlook. That's not the issue I have with it. In my opinion, it's poorly written fiction, and that could seriously damage my reputation.

I might prefer readers to mix me up with the Carol McKay who emailed me. She writes erotic fiction. Apparently this is one of the boom sales areas for e-book readers. I wouldn't mind a cut of her market share.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Just a quick note this time to mention the Edinburgh E-book Festival which is taking place wherever you are now.

Running 24/7 and completely free of charge, this book festival is pretty unique. The brainchild of writer Cally Phillips, it's being held worldwide, online. Every day between 11 and 27 August, new features are being launched, and the site will stay open long after that, giving everyone access to all the features well into the foreseeable.

So what's on? Well, I'm there on August 26!  I'll be featured under Writers' Pieces and will have my short story collection Ordinary Domestic reviewed that day, too. The Writers' Pieces feature is about writers discussing how and why they got into writing as well as their attitude to e-books. It's a slot that's launched at lunchtimes (a 'piece' being Scots for 'sandwich'). Some of the authors are available to chat over Twitter and Facebook, too.

But this isn't just a wee nod to me and what I'm doing. Oh no - there's loads more than that. There's new, original short fiction on the site every day, and new poetry. All for free. There's discussion of indie publishing, opinion pieces, reviews and lots more. Definitely worth a visit. More than one.

Why not check to see what's on at the festival today?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Happy reviews for Ordinary Domestic!

Last week was a good week for me because I received two extremely favourable reviews for my e-book Ordinary Domestic: collected short stories

All the big emotions come to me when I think about how I felt when I clicked on the link to read the review in Northwords Now magazine (issue 21, Summer 2012). Trepidation, anxiety, fear of failure, fear of ridicule. No wonder my body no longer produces the stress hormone Cortisol any more. I've used it all up in fretting over the years!

So, it was a great relief to me, more than anything, to read Alison Napier's generous and considerate write-up on my fiction. Here's part of what she said -
'Ordinary Domestic is a collection of short stories and this book made me deeply happy.  Not because the stories were joyful and uplifting (though a few of them were) but because they made me think and feel, wince and shudder, even on one occasion, cry. Carol McKay’s skill is in the compassion she conveys for her characters regardless of their flaws or the chaos of their lives. ...
Her stories are unpredictable. They are naked and brave, rich and troubling. She writes about the awkward topics (disability, adoption, incest, sexual violence) with such deceptive ease that it is our own discomfort and prejudices that we bump up against, not those of the author’s.  Never assume you know what will ‘happen’.  Often little does.  But that little will be a beautifully judged, finely tuned, deeply perceptive piece of perfection and you will be glad that you lived those minutes of your life reading these words.'

Could I ask for a kinder review than that? You can read Alison's full review in the Northwords Now website here

This review was followed only two days later by an equally generous review on the Amazon site by David Manderson, a writer with a gift for creating flawed characters who are sublimely human. Here's what David said about Ordinary Domestic -

'The title, like everything else in this collection, is dangerously deceptive and deeply ironic. 'Ordinary' and 'domestic' these stories may be, but they are laced with dark emotions and deep, hidden desires. They also never fail to surprise.
The author talks in the voices of the marginalized, the robbed, beaten and raped, the dispossessed. That she finds humanity not just in them but also in their persecutors is a measure of the power of her quiet, lethal understatement.'

Could I ask for a better review? What pleases me most about this one is that David has expressed exactly what it is I try my best to do in my fiction.  

David Manderson is the author of Lost Bodies - a novel well worth reading.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Start writing fiction

End of an era. Of sorts. Eight years ago, in April 2004, I was taken on by The Open University to teach their innovative new module A174 'Start Writing Fiction'. It was innovative in that it was delivered completely online and because it was the OU's first foray into teaching creative writing at undergraduate level.

The module attracted interest across the UK and beyond. Hundreds signed up for each presentation and it ran three times per year. I've taught on it, three times a year, since then. Now, in May 2012, I've just finished marking my very last students' assignments on its very last presentation. With twenty-five students per group, I  reckon I've worked with six hundred students on this one module alone.

I still hear people say, 'Can creative writing be taught?' It's such a stupid question I won't dignify it with an answer. Sufficient to say that 600 people in my groups alone have learned the nuts and bolts of how to create believable characters and satisfying story arcs and they've also been given the tools to explore their memory and imagination. Equipped for life with a satisfying creative outlet.

As for me, I'm still going to be teaching on the OU's second level creative writing module, A215. A longer module, it covers developing your own creativity, writing fiction, poetry, life writing and also preparing for publication. You can read more about it here  But I'm also hoping to start writing some more fiction of my own.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Further to my last post, I've been doing some further reading and deeper thinking about the e-book revolution. I'm so pleased that my partner, Keith, has set up The PotHole Press and has published my short story collection and I was saying that writers need publishers like him - with his attention to detail and his determination to produce the best possible end product. I hold this opinion because I've downloaded several e-books and bought some printed books published by small organisations who offer a print-on-demand service only to discover their products are badly presented, badly edited and don't replicate the quality achieved by the major publishing houses.

These are people - be they independent writers or small publishers - who invest their time and energy and also, often, money, because they have an ambition to see writing they believe in made available for the public to read.  Who am I, then, to deny them the right or to castigate them for doing it?

It's clear the larger publishing houses seek big sellers. They want a guaranteed return on their investment. After all, they've staff and offices to pay for, over and above the actual printing and distribution costs. Mass media, social media and online retailing means there's a big spike in interest for a very few books. If I can make an analogy with the 100 metres - there are eight people in the race, all pretty much achieving phenomenal speeds but it's the winner's name that everyone remembers. And that 'everyone' is, thanks to mass media, now a global audience rather than just a small village, small town or small country.

Who could blame a large publishing house from wanting to publish only the biography (or novel) written by the winner? That would be a guaranteed earner. Why would they want something written by the people who come six or seventh, or only made it to the heats? But this doesn't mean those runners are no good at what they do.

In a global market place, there are very few winners. This applies to the book world, too. Guaranteed success is there only for the dead certs. So, someone who has made a name in one field (e.g. running, music, TV soaps) will have his novel snapped up by a publisher without any qualms about literary quality. That can be bought in in the form of copy editors and ghost writers and because of the fame of the name, the work will be a major success.

So where does this leave those who aren't the front runners? Well, I've been reading some blog posts recently and will share the links to them. First, here's David Manderson on his experience at a debut novelist training event where 'wisdom' was handed down from on high by those supposedly in the know about what publishers want.    David's book 'Lost Bodies' is one I recommend totally.  It was published by a relatively small publisher (Kennedy & Boyd) but their production standards are excellent - a fitting match for David's literary talent.

I've also been very interested in following up Catherine Czerkawska's blog posts about indie publishing. Catherine has achieved a wide ranging and well-respected publishing history over the years but as a 'midlist' literary author (i.e. not a front runner bringing in huge sales and not a new young discovery who just might have promise), she's decided to take control of her own publishing and promotion - with drive and success.  Her blog makes fascinating reading.

Finally, for a look at the economic reality for the best-intentioned small publishers, here's a link to Two Ravens' Press recent blog,%20four%20and%20a%20half%20years%20on.html

My views are still the same in some respects. Quality is everything. If you go down the indie route and self-publish, you need to set high production standards. If your book is accepted by a small publisher for e-book publication or print-on-demand, you need to insist on high spec publication. None of this uploading of pdf files which result in random line breaks and a messy reading experience. Punctuation and proof reading have to be the best you can get. This is where I'm indebted to The PotHole Press, because I know that Keith will treat my writing as seriously as I do myself and will ensure the highest production standards.

Maybe the most important thing about having a publisher, rather than doing it all yourself, is advocacy. Someone else there working with you and for you, helping you take your writing into the world.

Friday, 30 March 2012

I'm pleased to say that Ordinary Domestic: Collected Short Stories is now available as an e-book for Kindle.  Published by PotHole Press, this collection brings together the stories I've had published in various magazines over the years and makes them available again, and all together. There's 'Unrestricted', which was a finalist in the big Macallan/Scotland on Sunday Short Story Competition, and there's 'Marion', which was my very first publication - in Cencrastus, a Scottish literary magazine - way back in 1999. 'Frozen Waste', which was the opening story in the first edition of prestigious magazine Gutter, is there, too.  Some of my favourite unpublished stories are also in the collection. Which one's your favourite?

PotHole Press is a new venture, set up and run by Keith McKay, my partner. He's looking for submissions of literary fiction primarily and has expressed a particular interest for collections of literary short stories. My views on this? Well, I'm delighted he's published my short stories and I really appreciate the skill and talent he's lavished on it. He believes that standards in e-book publishing should be every bit as high as those we expect from print publishing - and by that he means the reputable, big publishers. It's disappointing if an author has spent years polishing their work only to have it mangled by self-publishing it as a pdf on an e-book reader. Keith's standards are high and that's in the author's favour.

As for the whole e-publishing phenomenon, I'm all for it. The publishing industry is in a period of upheaval. E-publishers and Print-On-Demand publishers are the SMEs of the publishing world and like any other small to medium enterprise they bring a new zest and vitality to the industry. They're prepared to put in the hours and take risks - to find, prepare and market good writing. But what about quality when everyone who's ever written is able to publish their own manuscript via POD or e-book? This is where the difference will lie. And this is where we still need publishers like The PotHole Press, whose tag-line is 'We take pride in our e-books'. 

is available from Amazon by clicking the link in the box on the right.