I Met Ian Rankin: SMHAF Writing Awards

Mum and I arrived a few minutes early to the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Writing Awards in Glasgow. The doors to St George’s Tron church were still closed. We talked to some of the other writers, including Eilidh Clark, who we sat next to on the front row; less far to walk onto the stage and less likelihood of tripping. The room filled behind us.

Eilidh fidgeted a little saying, ‘Oh, I’m getting a bit nervous. You don’t seem nervous.’

‘I am.’ I laughed. ‘That’s why I’m nattering away like a maniac.’

Years of performing, conducting and public speaking have taught me to cover my nerves with a yellow dress, a full face of makeup, and a tirade of chatter!

The event began with a welcome from the event organiser, Andrew, followed by a set of three songs from singer-songwriter Emma Pollock. She took her handbag on stage because there was no one to watch it for her! Her jittery, self-deprecating manner transformed into a powerful musical performance.

Ian Rankin, the evening’s host, made a Continue reading

Celebrating Rejections?

When I had another story rejection recently, my face didn’t even react. I just clicked off my emails and got on with some work.

That seems a shame after all the effort I made to prepare the story for submission, studying the competition rules, reformatting to meet the requirements etc.

Maybe I need a ritual, a recognition of rejections, something that reinforces the idea that they’re a kind of achievement in themselves. They show that I stuck my head over the literary parapet. (How very dare I?)

If I received any physical rejection letters, I could pin them to a wall. That would do the job.

Maybe I could Continue reading

This Kind of Happiness

There should be a special word for this kind of happiness. I’ve never needed my feet in the sand and sea as much as I needed it today. And what a beautiful day to do it.

As I swished my bare feet through the shallows, a grey-haired lady in a pink and white striped top, beige three-quarter lengths and sturdy trainers, walked by on the beach. Her eyes were open to conversation.

‘Get your feet in here!’ I laughed and flicked my hair for dramatic effect.

‘Oh, not today,’ she said, smiling. ‘I don’t want to get my feet wet and sandy when I have to walk back to St Ives afterwards!’

‘Fair enough.’

We were soon deep in conversation. She told me all about herself, how she lives in Dorset but is from Scotland originally; how she and three friends moved down to London in the 60s with no idea what they would Continue reading

Seizure the Day

And then I fell on my head.

One moment I was sitting down on the sofa, with a banana in my hand, and the next moment my neck was pressed into the carpet. Everything was dark.

What if I’m brain damaged? What if no one finds me? What if I never move again?

All the things I was going to do with my life. Music or law or music or creative writing or teaching or teaching music or teaching creative writing or. Shut up.

Wow, this is one heck of a dusty carpet. Someone needs to clean it. Apparently, I prefer seizures to hoovering.

Nobody teaches you what to do in this kind of situation. I mean, I’m living like a hermit queen in a detached bungalow with neighbours who like to go out places (weirdos). I’m not sure I could shout loudly enough to make myself heard anyway, and even if I could, how are they getting in? I always lock the door – I’m an anxious queen, okay? One of the neighbours has a key, but they’re too far away to hear and no one else knows that they have a key, so they’d have to break in, and…Well, this is a mess.

I risk Continue reading

Are Online Friendships ‘Real’?

I once overheard a group conversation about the value of online friendships. One woman said, ‘The thing is, I’ve had long email exchanges with you, Hilary, but I wouldn’t say we really know each other. We don’t exactly have a relationship.’


Hilary (or whatever her name was) looked upset. To her, she had finally put a face to a very real friendship, which until that point had been conducted through the written word. Talk about a communication breakdown!

My approach to online friendships has developed over the years. I didn’t use to add anyone on Facebook/Messenger who I hadn’t met in ‘real life’ – a safe approach, especially as I was young. This changed when I became more involved in the writing community. I started adding people I’d ‘met’ on the OU forums – some I’d seen at tutorials, but not all of them.

My personal Facebook became more public. I wanted people to have the option of sharing my blog posts, for example. And I decided that I would only post things that I wouldn’t mind anyone seeing. (My posts aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but I’m happy for them to unfollow me.)

The more I think about it, the more I realise I have a lot of meaningful friendships that have either begun online or take place almost entirely online.

I met my Continue reading

Rejection is a Nasty Word

As I reread my last blog post, I realised how unpleasant the word ‘rejection’ is in terms of publication and story competitions.

I get a nasty taste in my mouth whenever I think, ‘Another rejection.’ Rejection conjures a sense of, ‘Ew, no, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever read in my whole life and you must be crazy to think we’d consider your story and you’re a terrible writer and a terrible person.’ (That escalated quickly.)

It can feel personal. Most of the time, it Continue reading

Short Story Acceptance and Rejection

I’ve been shortlisted twice in the past month. The first was in the International Writing Competition for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival – I’m looking forward to a trip to Glasgow for the award ceremony and meeting Ian Rankin. The second was the Cambridge Short Story Prize, which happened in an odd way.

I keep careful records of all my short story submissions. When I looked through them recently, I realised my story ‘To Live’ was sitting at home (well, on my laptop), abandoned. Perhaps it was exhausted from the four rejections it had received! It’s a story I wrote for an MA assignment last year and I considered it a breakthrough effort, delving into the voice of an old man using stream of consciousness.

I scheduled Friday morning to look at it again, for the first time in two months. There was something that didn’t sit quite right with the Continue reading