Learning at Luath – Day One.

I’m not long back from a saunter down the very busy Royal Mile following my first day at Luath Press. What a change from grassy hills, sheep and cows; and the wonderful aromas I had to walk through–coffee, food, waffles! But I managed to resist.

My first day was busy in a way I’m not used to being busy. After a friendly welcome from Laura and a steep climb up the many stairs, I was introduced to Gavin and encouraged to read the Luath website to familiarise myself with the current projects first. I had already had a good scan, but it was good to have a re-cap. I was informed they were waiting for Ella, another intern who would also be learning at Luath this week. The views from the small, stappet fu office are immense

When Laura arrived, Gavin gave us an overview of all things publishing. We were handed a list of all the learning opportunities available and asked to highlight what interested us the most. I sat with my yellow pen highlighting various tasks such as “book blurb” and “assess manuscript” and “interview author”. It was a bit nerve wracking, but I didn’t get the opportunity to worry.

Next it was over to Laura to allocate us work for the day. I spent the day proofreading my first manuscript. Later in the day, Gavin called us over and gave us a run-down of other projects and suggested work that might be beneficial to us in terms of the courses we are doing, as well as personal/writing interests.

I have to say, I was slow to get going and a bit frightened to put red pen marks on the white paper but by 5pm I had tackled my fear. I was also worried that I was reading too slow but a quick chat with Gavin soon fixed that. He explained that there are many aspects that effect how fast a manuscript is read; people read at different speeds, the type of reading that is required i.e. proofreading, editing, as well as the type of manuscript–factual or fiction-are but a few that he mentioned.

So, what have I learned?

Publishing is a multifaceted process that requires patience, skill, a keen eye as well as bucket loads of creativity. The manuscript I was reading was dense with factual information and not the type of thing I would normally read. I was aware that I was trying to rush and had to actively slow myself down. I had to check names, dates, and place names to ensure they were correct which slows the process.

Before I knew it, it was 5pm and time to come back to the hotel. I packed up and descended to street level and into the throng that is Edinburgh. I can tell that this week will fly past!

Sleeping with the Imposter

So, here I am, cosied up in my aparthotel room in Edinburgh listening tae storm Dennis blawin a hoolie at the windae. I was pleasantly surprised with the budget room, it has all the mod-cons that I need, even a dishwasher! I decided to stay for the week rather than commute because I live semi-rural and thought a week in the big smoke would be a novelty–the long lie was also a no brainer.

I’m prepared to start my  internship at Luath, but I have to admit, the imposter syndrome is clagging in. It fills me with doubt about my abilities and, if not managed, impedes creative flow.

I first learned about imposter syndrome during staff training when I was a community psychiatric nurse. The facilitator discussed the syndrome, “we all experience it” he said, “it’s that feeling when you’re saying your piece at the team meeting, at the same time thinking that you’re talking rubbish, you don’t have a clue and your colleagues know that you’re at it.” I was stunned. I knew exactly what he was talking about and thought it was just me being me. Well, it was me being me, but I was comforted to know that I was not alone.

And… there are five different types of imposter syndrome–who knew?

This is something I have chatted about with my lovely classmates, writing buddies, even published authors. It doesn’t seem to matter how much positive feedback, constructive criticism, success or general comments of loveliness we receive about our writing, Imposter Syndrome sucks the self-belief right out of us and makes us terrified, makes us run away from our exhibited pieces–I cringed as my esteemed fellow student and Imposter Syndrome compadre shrunk into the shadows as my mother-in-law ordered me to stand by my piece at the River Deep Mountain High exhibition, so she could take a photograph to show her friends–just as Victoria Lothian writes.

I don’t think the issue will magically disappear as our confidence grows, but I do think the voice might fade or, we might feel strong enough to tell it to hud it’s weesht!

I wonder if I’ll be exposed tomorrow… I’ll sleep on it.

Highs and Lows of the Writing Life

River Deep Mountain High pretty much sums up how I feel from day to day whilst navigating through the MLitt Writing Practice and Study course. I can go from feeling complete deflation at momentary lack of creativity or inability to respond intelligently in tutorials, to feeling on top of the world when that once tricky poem begins to flow or that short story finally gets a decent ending.

So the University Archives exhibition that myself and my fellow students recently contributed to was aptly named, River Deep Mountain High, as although we were all thrilled to be included in an actual exhibition, that people would actually see, that would even have its own *gasp* launch night, we were all also feeling rather apprehensive and weird about the prospect of our work being on display for everyone to see. At the end of last year, we had been invited to view some of the University Archives that related to the natural landscape- bridge models, mountaineering photographs, botanical artefacts etc- and to produce a creative response to any that gave us inspiration. The exhibition is currently running in the University’s Tower Building and it is a stunning collection of super interesting archives on display alongside the hugely varied creative responses of writers and artists. Such a diverse mix of poetry, prose, essays, sculpting, jewellery, paintings and drawings that offer something for everyone. Go see it!

In the exhibition you’ll see a poem I wrote, ‘The Bothy’, inspired by the visitor book from the Scottish Highlands’ Corrour Bothy. I was feeling rather chuffed and excited before the exhibition launch, my first one, but when I got there and saw my poem on a large board at the far side of the room a strange sensation of vulnerability made me want to turn on my heels and run away before anyone could figure out that it was my poem. I still can’t figure out what I was feeling; nerves, self-doubt, a wish that I’d spent more time on it? I did stay for the duration of the launch, and gulped down a glass of red wine to calm the jitters, and I did actually make it close enough to my poem to check for typos (too late anyway but luckily there were none). When asked if I wanted my photo taken beside my piece I politely declined and edged away (all the while inside I was screaming, ‘Nooooooo, never, don’t you know how mortified I am that people are reading my poem??’). Hmmm. What was going on there then?

Writers are funny folk. We write to express but some of us shy away from the sharing of our expressions. Perhaps some of us feel imposter syndrome more than others? More of that in my next blog in which I will pretend I am a blogger and blog about pretending.

Pipe Dream

Organisation is key to managing a busy workload and all things stationary are required to facilitate organisation–as all stationary fetishists will understand. Yesterday, after accepting delivery of the eight hexagonal cork boards I ordered a few days ago, I ran upstairs to my writing snug like a kid with a new toy at Christmas, peeled off the sticky backs and stuck them to the wall beside my desk.

I sat for around thirty minutes thinking about how to organise the information that I need to organise my busy writing and studying schedule. As I deliberated it dawned on me that I was procrastinating and I don’t have time for that!

Semester two of the course is proving to be exhilarating. I was fortunate to be involved with the University Archive’s River Deep Mountain High exhibition, and I am currently collaborating with my wonderfully talented and creative peers–both writers and artists– on a project with the V&A Museum in Dundee.

On Sunday I’ll be packing my suitcase and heading down to Edinburgh for a week-long internship at one of Scotland’s leading independent publishers: Luath Press. My nerves are jingling in response to this but I’m excited by the prospect of learning a few things about the publishing process.

Funnily enough, on this day 17 years ago I was already a few weeks into my first placement as a student mental health nurse. I simply put my dream of writing down to being nothing more than a whim, a fantasy…

Ellie Julings

Stories change the world, right? They certainly change my world regularly. It’s why I’ve always loved reading, and why I decided a few years ago to focus on what I really loved and learn to write. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done willingly and it’s infinitely rewarding.

I grew up in Leeds and more recently spent several years living on Larrakia country (Darwin) on Australia’s tropical north coast. I now live in Dundee and work part time in  the charity sector.

My writing primarily revolves around my personal experiences of environmental and anti-capitalist activism; where some of my most emotionally charged and interesting stories lurk. I’m preoccupied with stories that bear witness to, or inspire change in people and society. But I also adore those easier reads that feel like being gently wrapped up inside a familar world. Isn’t it wonderful that stories can do both?

 

 

When Creativity Runs Dry

I’ve long known that artistic inspiration comes in waves. One day you are being swept along on a tsunami of creativity, riding high, euphorically smug about the abundance of ideas crashing onto the shore (or, erm, blank page) before you; the next day you are parched dry, shrivelled up and flaking on a vast sandy beach, the tide is miles out and pathetically spitting its way back to meet you, in no hurry whatsoever, with complete disregard for your deadlines.

Today is a dry day.

I woke up with a humungous ‘to do’ list including finishing a piece for my Studying Writing class, generating inspired ideas for a very exciting V& A Dundee project and putting together an article to pitch to a magazine. The only thing required of me today was to be creative. Get the creative juices flowing. Pour out my creative genius on the page. Unfortunately, I’m still working on the genius part (fake it til you make it) but today I can assure you that nothing, not even a teeny-weeny bit of writing brilliance, or even competency, has made its way from my brain to paper.

Aah the writer’s life! Writing to demand is a tricky task. I did scramble together a piece of sorts for my homework and tentatively sent it to my tutor (I’m hoping my 748 words aren’t edited down to 30- it really was a dry nib day) but the V&A project will have to wait until that creative tsunami gathers momentum. I’m wondering what advice established writers would give to wannabes who are a bit stuck. I hear the best thing to do is write regardless. As a ridiculously busy person (aren’t we all) it is so frustrating to be at the mercy of when a notion or thought or idea might grace me with its presence. When inspiration doesn’t strike it just feels like wasted time.

But write regardless they say and write is what I did! Sadly, reading back what I wrote today made me question my right to be on the MLitt course as imposter syndrome reared its confidence crushing head. Sitting at my desk I drummed my fingers repeatedly so much that at the end of the day they needed a lie down. As did I.

But something happened as I wrote, no scribbled, actually more like scrawled my way from dawn until dusk. Through pages of dross and embarrassingly amateur similes and metaphors, shameful attempts at poetry and a severe absence of big words, there on my pages were a few, just a few, little ideas that might, might, just lead to something. Not the tsunami I was banking on but rather a sporadic trickle, that will perhaps be enough to get tomorrow’s ink flowing. When creativity runs dry, write regardless.

Lothian’s Adventures at Luath (Day 3)

A view to inspire travel writing…

Having had a break from Luath to attend a creative writing workshop at Dundee’s V&A, I felt refreshed and eager to get back to the world of publishing. The creative energy that was flowing at the museum was incredibly inspiring and put a real fire in my belly for all that is to come my way in the next few months, including more placement adventures. Day three at Luath did not disappoint. My morning was spent tidying up pieces of work from my first two days (Advanced Information Sheet, the Book Blurb and Press documents- writing is rewriting, and rewriting is writing) and drafting a list of errors I’d found whilst proofreading a manuscript. I then spent a bit of time writing a summary of the activities I had undertaken at Luath which was really satisfying to see on screen- I’d been a busy bee and learned enough to be suitably chuffed with myself. Throughout these activities I had a sense of anticipation as I waited for Ralph Storer, renowned and respected mountaineering/hillwalking author extraordinaire, to arrive for the author interview I’d been invited to sit in on. I felt like a gushy school girl waiting outside a concert to catch a glimpse of some teeny bopping heart throb, but, erm, it wasn’t exactly a crush I felt for the not so teeny bopping Storer, but rather huge admiration for his vast hill climbing experience and knowledge of the Scottish mountains that I love so much. And let’s not forget, he is brilliantly precise and charming on the pages of his many books. What a pleasant surprise to be asked by Gavin if I’d like some time with Ralph after they went over a few book issues. While they discussed typesetting, justification of text, photographs and had an almost uncomfortably animated exchange over two imperceptibly different fonts, I sat super thrilled thinking of questions I would ask Storer once I had him all to myself. And then it happened. I conducted a completely impromptu interview with a skilled and revered author, flying by the seat of my pants, proper winging it, living the dream. I was not expecting to enjoy this process as much as I did. But Ralph was gracious, charming and thankfully very accommodating as we shared stories of Scotland’s finest hills and the writing life. I managed to keep the conversation flowing and buoyant and got a lot of useful information and advice to keep to myself and perhaps share with those I like. Maybe. Perhaps his greatest gift to me was his response to the question, ‘What advice do you have for aspiring writers?’. He glared at me, incredulous, and simply said, ‘Write’.

Lothian’s Adventures at Luath (Day 2)

The Luath office view of Edinburgh Castle is okay, I suppose…

My enthusiasm for Luath hadn’t dwindled through the night and I woke fresh and keen to start the day! Having completed proofreading yesterday’s rather challenging manuscript before setting off for the train, I felt prepared for the day ahead. Arriving in the office I found Lauren and Gavin deeply engrossed in whatever was going on in their PCs, so I quietly set myself up and got on with working through the tasks I had assigned for myself. First up was to create an Advanced Information sheet for the manuscript I had just read. This involved collating relevant information about the book onto one informative sheet that can then be sent to potential booksellers. Included in the info is Cover Image, Title, Subtitles, Author Biography, Publication Date, ISBN number, Price, Synopsis of the book and a list of other competitive books on the market. I felt rather accomplished once I had finished albeit a little frazzled with the detail overload. Following on from this task I wrote a Press Release in which I made full use of my hyperbole skills to attract the attention of weary journalists. This required finding a ‘hook’ on which to draw in the reader. Quite a fun task. But best of all was my next task of writing the Book Blurb. I thoroughly relished gathering all the best bits of the book and summing it up in the most glowing, positive and concise way I could think of; it was a happy creative process. Unfortunately my next task was to enter information into an Excel database, an energy sapping task for a flaky creative, but I wasn’t doing that for long before Gavin called me over and asked if I would like to sit in on an author meeting on Thursday. Yes please! But most exciting is that the author is Ralph Storer, master of hill walking in the Highlands and full time writer of incredible books about the Scottish mountains. In a strange case of serendipity, Luath Press are about to release Storer’s new book ‘Corrour Bothy’ of which I have just written a poem about for the University of Dundee Archives Exhibition. Isn’t it funny how things link together? So I spent my last hour at Luath today researching Ralph Storer and skimming through the manuscript for ‘Corrour Bothy’. Another fine day. Back at Luath on Thursday for more adventures!

Lothian’s Adventures in Luath (Day 1)

Train journeys thrill me! The very act of sitting still (a rare treat), of not having to drive myself, to be alone with my thoughts and to ooh and aah at the Scottish scenery as it whizzes by are all a very pleasant way to start the day. But this wasn’t an ordinary day for me… this was an EPIC day. It’s been a long time since I entered an office as part of a workforce and today I travelled to Edinburgh to begin an internship at Luath Press for what promises to be a highly rewarding experience. I was, true to character, super early but that was just as well as the Luath premises are tucked away down an alleyway, only a stone’s throw away from the castle, but extremely difficult to find. Once I had figured it out with the help of the Castle Gift Shop staff and two helpful workmen, I was off marching up the many many stairs to the elevated position of the Luath Press office with its clear views across a super sunny Edinburgh. Wow. NOT what I was expecting at all. In a small cramped but cosy and relaxed room sat piles and piles of papers and books, which in itself is a thrilling sight but a little intimidating, and also the loveliest staff I could have wished for. Much to my delight there is another intern, Kaitlyn, working alongside me this week and her presence took the edge of any fleeting nerves I felt. Gavin gave us a brief chat about the publishing world and the work they do there and then gave us a check list of very interesting things we might like to accomplish through the week. Then we were sent over to sit with the super attentive and kind Lauren who was very accommodating and reassuring. Kaitlyn and I were told to have a look at Luath’s upcoming releases to familiarise ourselves with the kinds of books they publish (I had done that already so felt I was being eased in gently) then Gavin presented us each with a manuscript. An actual manuscript. To proof read. Yes, that’s right… big job. Eeek! I was simultaneously excited and anxious but quickly got down to business. The only problem was, I had been given a highly detailed factual book and there wasn’t one single page of it that I found easy to read. However, that’s publishing. I am aware that my personal taste is of no relevance whatsoever! Reading it did hurt my brain though. I still hadn’t finished it when it was time to go home but it will be my bedtime reading tonight. Pretty sure I’ll fall asleep no problem. Apart from the taxing text in today’s book, today was wonderful and I simply can’t wait to return to Luath tomorrow. Once I’ve completed proofreading the manuscript I will be compiling its book blurb, press info, marketing plan and much more. What a privilege!

Wanda McGregor

It was around this time last year that I took the plunge, tendered my resignation as a mental health nurse and began preparing myself psychologically for the MLitt Writing Practice and Study.

I entered my first creating writing class last September with trepidation and my imposter syndrome, but I managed to maintain a poker face as I poised my pen above paper. And off I went.

The first semester has flown past and I have produced writing that I didn’t know I was capable of. The experience of creating new works stirs feelings of sheer delight that take me back to the first time I hooked a duck at the “switchies” and won a goldfish: don’t worry, I haven’t jumped up in class cheering and shouting “I won! I won!”

So far, my mind has been stretched in many directions and I am having fun trying everything; I have moved from my comfort zone of writing in the vernacular to poetic prose, experimenting with form and voice across all genres.  I don’t have a background in literature but I am learning the lingo and getting to know the literary giants, past and present– as are my husband, my daughter and my three dogs.

I’m not sure where this is going… but it’s exciting unraveling my new writing life.